You may think that once you leave high school behind, difficult students will be a thing of the past, but unfortunately this is not always the case. Even in higher education and workplace training there can still be those students who chose to be difficult, and end up causing a disruption for everyone in the classroom.

There are many reasons why a student may choose to be difficult, from not being interested in learning, to just deciding to be disruptive for the sake of it. As a teacher or trainer, it's important to make sure you know to deal with difficult students as you'll want to try and combat any disruption as soon as it manifests itself. It's also important to tackle the problem quickly to make sure you can get any disruptive students back on track, so that their learning isn't negatively affected.

Difficult students can present themselves in a number of ways. From interrupting the learning of the whole class to not handing in assignments on time, and even not participating in things like group work, these can all create serious problems in your classroom.

We take a look at some of the best ways to deal with any difficult students in your class, so you can hopefully tackle the problem before it becomes a really big issue.

Set Expectations

Staff training

One way to try and prevent a problem before it's even presented itself is to set expectations of what you want from your class from day one.  This is important because it lets you set out what you expect from your class, but also what the consequences will be if they don't meet these expectations.

Setting out how your class will run is a good idea because every teacher or trainer will have a very different way of working. This lets your students know exactly what will happen and what they are permitted to do in your class, instead of them just assuming it may be the same as another class.

First run through the basic things which you do and don't expect from your class, such as whether they are permitted to eat in class or how they should ask any questions. You may think letting students ask questions at any time during the class may be a good idea, but if you have a student who like to ask questions every 30 seconds this may prove very disruptive to your lesson plan and the rest of the class. Some disruptive behaviours may come from a student with the best intentions, but they still need to be dealt with as quickly as possible.

Then run through more important things like assessments, such as when are the hand-in dates and what should students do if they can't meet the deadline. This gives your students a clear picture of how the entire class or course will run, so they should have a clear idea of when any work is due and how to handle their workload.

Finally, it's important to go over what will happen if the rules you have set out are broken. Make it clear what will happen if hand-in dates are missed or assessments are not sat. Explaining these consequences, as well as how it will affect their final grade, could be enough to shock them into paying attention if the course is something they really need to pass.

Setting out these ground rules right at the start should show the students that you're not to be messed with, and they can't claim later that they didn't know what would happen if they did something wrong.

Stress the Cause and Effect

Staff training

Even when dealing with adult students, you can come across people who are less than happy to be attending training sessions. This could be because it's a topic they're not that interested in, or they feel they're being made to attend training, for example workplace training which they need to complete.

Students may think that messing around is all fun and games at the time, but then are surprised and disappointed when they don't pass the class at the end of it all. If you have a student who is causing problems in your class, it's important to have a chat with them as quickly as possible to try and get it sorted out.

For example, f you have a student who is constantly coming to class unprepared, this can be frustrating as it may slow down your teaching, as well as the rest of the class. Simply asking them to study before class may fall on deaf ears, so another way to go is to stress exactly what will happen if they continue on their current path. Explain to them that consistently turning up unprepared will lead to a fail for the whole course, which they may not be able to resit straight away, as perhaps the training is only run every 6 months. This in turn could lead to them missing out on career progression opportunities, or even further training, because they still haven't passed the course you are running.

Laying out the consequences for them like this may shock them into changing their behaviour, because they may not have considered what would happen if they didn't pass the course.

Don't Get Angry


If you're having issues with the same student again and again, it can be easy to feel yourself getting angry with them. However, it's important not to do this for a number of reason. Aside from being a little unprofessional, it may be exactly what your problem student is aiming for. Some students think it's funny to wind up their teacher, so losing your cool in front of them could just encourage them to keep being difficult.

Also shouting at one student can create an awkward situation with all the students in your class, as being in the presence of yelling is never exactly pleasant. The last thing you want to do is have your entire class dislike you because you lost it for a moment with one student, as this may make it difficult for them to relate to you and the material you're trying to teach.

A final reason to not shout at any problem students you may have, is it may cause them to shut down, which is an even more difficult problem to deal with. If someone is causing a lot of disruptions in class, by constantly chatting or not paying attention, they may not think they're doing anything that's too annoying. To have you shout at them might be quite shocking and just lead to them being angry with you, and therefore probably not very interested in the class. This is definitely a situation where it's better to have a quick chat with them, and stress that their constant disruptions are having a negative effect on the class. This will give you both the chance to talk through the problem and hopefully feel happy with the outcome, whereas shouting at someone in class is unlikely to have a positive outcome, and your student is unlikely to know exactly what they have done wrong.


Difficult people crop up in all aspects of our lives, and just because you're dealing with adults, doesn't mean you won't be faced with disruptive students. The main thing to remember is that your role as the teacher or trainer is to ensure that your class learns the material and skills they need as fully as possible, and hopefully pass with flying colours! That's why it's important to tackle problems head on as soon as they arise, and before they develop into a bigger issue.