Dealing with Difficult Students

Many problems occur at The Learning Center because students are stressed. ‘Normal’ stressed out students can be calmed down fairly easily using the right tools.But someday you might have a student who is a bully, maybe even hostile.    Dealing with them takes more effort.    Additionally, dealing with students who may be emotionally unbalanced is a whole different matter.    We’ll cover all three types of students.

This presentation is designed to provide you with tips on how to deal with students who act unkindly or unreasonably and to be able to recognize potentially bigger problems.   In general, we want you to

  1. learn how to determine what a student's problem is,
  2. learn to diffuse situations where possible, and
  3. recognize when to go a get Gwen or Betty.

When it becomes apparent that a problem is brewing,

  1. Approach the student giving the benefit of the doubt.  Be kind.
  2. Assume that the situation can be solved easily and quickly.
  3. Figure out what the student wants or needs.  Ask nice, simple questions.
  4. Attempt to find common ground, as this can change the course of the whole event.
  5. If what he wants is something we do, calmly try to help him achieve his goal.
  6. If it is not something we do, nicely explain, saying as little as possible.
  7. If the student becomes upset because, for example, the computer freezes, say supportive things like,  “Shoots,  I  hate  when  that  happens.”    NEVER apologize  unless  you  are  directly  responsible -  say  things  like “How unfortunate” or “What a drag.”
  8. Say soothing things.  Try “I know how stressful it can be when a paper is due and  the  computer  starts  acting  up”  or  “I   bet  we  can  figure  this  out”  or something else appropriate.  Separate the person from the problem (think: soft on people, tough on problems).
  9. Remember that you represent The Learning Center.  Think of how you would act if Gwen were watching.
  10. If students become loud, think of it this way: they are yelling not at you, but for themselves.  Don’t take things personally.

If things cool down and the matter has cleared up, you have just dealt with a ‘normal’ stressed out student.  If the student continues to behave rudely even after you have been helpful and supportive, you may be dealing with a bully.

  1. If the student continues to be upset, respond verbally as little as possible.
  2. Get a concerned look on your face and just shake your head.  Don’t give them anything to react to.
  3. Control the situation by controlling what you say.
  4. If the student won’t back down, and depending on the situation, one solution is to let the student do the wrong thing just this one time (let him print his club roster, but tell him he has to go elsewhere in the future).

When dealing with obstinate people, try using the experts’ rules for open communication:

  1. Have both parties state their problem (perhaps a TLC policy versus the student’s desire situation)
  • use “we/TLC” statements (“Our policy is such and such”)
  • indicate a willingness to resolve the problem (“Consult, don’t dictate”)
  • do not be mean
  • stay in the present
  • focus only on the problem at hand (don’t let the student drift off to his other problems)
2.   Hear the student out
  • don’t interrupt
  • acknowledge their viewpoint
  • restate what you’ve heard
  • use silence
3.   Look for areas of agreement
  • point out areas of agreement
  • make an optimistic statement
4.   Request behavior changes only, not attitude changes
  • if your request is for them to stop doing something, tell them what to do instead

 If you feel that you are not making any headway with the student or if things intensify, or if you ever feel uncomfortable, get Gwen or Betty.

 Disturbed students usually make their presence known.  Foul language and abusive comments will not be tolerated.  Immediately get Gwen or Betty.

Tutor Handbook