Jessica Watson

Dealing with the troublemakers

Discipline: tips on control in the classroom

Troublemakers. We have all seen them do their thing, causing mayhem and disorder in the classroom; perhaps you were even one yourself at some point during your time as a student.

Troublemakers are the bane of every teacher's existence and they make our job go from difficult to pounding headache and hair-tearing proportions.

Role reversal

I'll admit, I was a goody-two-shoes in school and I rarely caused any trouble in the classroom. I sat in my seat, spoke when called on and never, ever disrupted the class with outbursts or antics. So, when the roles were reversed and I became the teacher, I foolishly assumed every student would be just like I was when I was in school.

I hope you caught my use of the word "foolishly"; I couldn't have been more wrong with that assumption.

After 15 months of being a teacher in two countries, I have had to deal with my fair share of troublemakers in the classroom. It has been frustrating to say the least.

Soft touch

When I first started teaching, I was quite soft with discipline and I think this is quite common for first time teachers; we are anxious to have our students like us and don't want to start off on the wrong foot by coming across as a dictator in the classroom. Now, after having my soft tactics being used and abused by my students, I've become a bit of a tougher disciplinarian and I'm not afraid to crack down on the first troublemaker.

My students don't fear me, they just know that fooling around during class won't be tolerated and if they want to have a fun and engaging class, they need to show me the same respect that I show them.


Here are a few of my tactics I wanted to share. If you are a first time teacher, I hope you find these useful and if you are a long-time educator, please share your own experience and advice in the comments section!

1. Three Strikes: I find the "three strikes and your out" tactic very useful. Usually, I do it for the whole class and will draw three stars on the board. I explain the concept and every time a student, or group of students, misbehave, I will erase one star. At the end of class, if there is one or more stars left on the board, we will play a quick game at the end of class and if all the stars are erased, then we don't play a game.

I find this very useful because the students feel more in control, their behavior decides if they get to play a game or not, and they have a visual to keep them aware of where they stand. It also encourages the students to work together because they are responsible for everybody being able to play a game, not just themselves. I find this works for all age groups.

2. Names On The Board: This is something I do when a few students are being extra rowdy and it is necessary to single them out. Usually, I will draw a star and then a sad face on the board; for kindergarten kids I will draw a happy and sad face and dub them "Mr. Happy" and "Mr. Sad". When a student is being very well-behaved, I will write their name under the star(or happy face) and single them out as an example for everyone else.

Students who are misbehaving have their name written under the sad face. I will usually reward the well-behaved students with a sticker. You can decide if you want to do this on a daily, weekly or monthly basis depending on your students. Another suggestion is, as the misbehaving students being to smarten up and fix their behavior, you can erase a letter or two from their name, eventually erasing the whole name...hopefully.

This allows the student to recognize that their good behavior is having positive repercussions.

3. Sit In The Corner: When a student is being exceptionally disruptive, I will have him sit next to the board or sit outside, provided I can see them. This usually puts an end to the behavior and shows the student that you mean business and their behavior will no longer be tolerated.

I continue to have them be a part of the lesson though and when they have demonstrated that they are paying attention and taking the lesson more seriously, I let them go back to their original seat.

4. The Principal's Office: This is my least favorite tactic and a last resort. Sometimes, I will either threaten to call the principal or to send a student to the principal's office.

I don't like making the threat, or following through with it, but sometimes the student may need the principal to become involved in order to realize their behavior is unacceptable. Just be careful with how many empty "principal" threats you use, or else they could be become ineffective when the students become accustomed to you actually not sending them there.


Josh, An "old fashioned spanking"? Are you out of your mind?

Don't ever—EVER—hit a child!

First of al, there's no better way to shut down to openness needed to be engaged in the learning process. Barking out lessons to students who sit quiet in fear of you is not a teaching/learning environment in the slightest.

Second, as you are in Asia as well, if you don't understand the deeper meaning of the "saving face culture" you yourself mention, then you need to do some studying on how different cultures interact socially, and how ignoring them will create a high wall between yourself and your students (not to mention their parents, your co workers and the school's administrators.

Third, teaching impressionable young minds that violence is how you confront problems in life is the last thing this world needs—and has been debunked as a management "tool" like 30 years ago.

And fourth, what the hell gives you the right to physically hit someone else's child? You, a foreigner in a culture you're not a part of. If my kid ever came home from school and told me his teacher hit him, I would immediately go to the school, and wherever I found you would punch you in the face. And if my child was a girl, I would break your neck. (And I think that's a valid response because MY teachers used corporal punishment to control me! See how that works?)

No teacher should ever hit a child, for christ's sake.

By Allen, Bangkok, Thailand (31st October 2019)

I find it funny how some folks think there is a one-size fits all approach to maintaining classroom discipline.

The hard truth is, children obey rules out of either fear or respect.

Does anyone not notice the correlation between the rise in poor/bad student behavior and the removal of consequences (ones that actually have an impact) from the classroom?

The hard truth is, while it should be used sparingly (yet swiftly) and NOT as a first response, an old fashioned spanking goes a long way. Furthermore, parents who consistently blame the teachers whilst not taking responsibility for their children, are a just as much to blame as anything on the list.

The degree in which these parents take the "face" game, perhaps should be considered pathological.

By Josh, Land of Kimchi and Garlic (12th October 2019)

I always had the class turn on the troublemakers. Very easy to get the serious students on my side. I'd say something like "Who thinks ____ is being rude and foolish show of hands please". Or I'd say how I had candy or a surprise for everyone but it looks like _____ ruined for everyone else. Everyone tell ____ how you feel about that.

Peer pressure and losing the respect of their peers is far far worse than having the teacher upset with them.

By JLR, Thailand (13th September 2015)

My experience is in classrooms here in NZ - I have yet to teach in a foreign country but I think I can safely assume that kids are kids wherever you go!
One whole class behaviour strategy I use alot is to explain to the class that whenever I say "Excuse me room [insert class number/name]" I expect INSTANT attention. I tell them I will only say it ONCE and I will not say it loud - it is THEIR responsibility to get each other in check. I stand wherever I am and make a big show of my arm extended staring at my watch to time how long it takes - any longer than 10 seconds and I take 1 minute of their break time (which can't be undone by them sucking up for the following 5 minutes-the time is being taken no matter how good they are afterwards. Their goal is to not have more minutes added!)
Although this isn't a strategy for a particularly disruptive individual student, it's a good whole class control action that allows me to remain calm. I'm not a 'big loud' person and I don't like to raise my voice constantly or bear down on students-I just wind up miserable if I'm suckered into bully tactics, they're too draining!

By Brent, New Zealand (11th September 2015)

When a students misbehave than only call the student parent. Or let a Thai teacher call the parents to come to school. Trust me, the last thing a Thai student’s want is, when “Mama or Papa” loses face. You will never have a problem in your school again.

By Michele Tedesco, Bangkok (1st July 2014)

This was definitely a nice read for me being a kindergarten teacher. Being the end of the year it might be too late to start some of these disciplinary actions but next year is a new start. I like the smiley and sad face idea. Thanks for this.


By Ron, BKK (8th March 2012)

I'm a big fan of the names on the board method. I've (luckily) not had to send anyone to the Principal yet, but I've not been teaching for too long. As a bit of a troublemaker myself towards the end of my school days, I know how easy it is to lose respect for a teacher - sounds like yours are lucky enough to have somebody they can look up to. Good stuff.

By Rob White, (1st March 2012)

The teacher has some good ideas regarding discipline, however the most effective way i have found is if a student or a bunch of students are misbehaving or talking, i immediatley stop the lesson, and this motivates the good students to rally against the bad ones. The best discipline in the classroom is by the students themselves!

By Peter, Bangkok (28th February 2012)

I've been told that students (undoubtedly not all) respect me because I can be quite firm, raise my voice, castigate etc. Of course this needs to be balanced out with friendliness and humour. I don't think being the disciplinarian all the time or the clown all the time is the way. You need to strike a balance. As for kicking students out of the classroom, a word to the wise; some schools have a policy forbidding this particular course of disciplinary action.

By Graham, Thailand (19th January 2012)

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