Don’t take pupil comments personally!

From time to time situations develop or comments are made which seem to touch a nerve. They seem to be the trigger to an emotional response from you, and that emotional response is not always your best course of action. Many pupils who are described as “difficult” or “challenging” spend a great deal of time working out the best buttons to press to promote the emotional response, and some pupils may just hit on it at random. The danger is not necessarily the challenging pupil, but how you manage your response.

Managing situations “off the cuff” or waiting for the problem to occur and then dealing with it may be successful some of the time, but it is a risky technique and one which sooner or later will lead to you reacting personally and taking the comments made too personally. Your techniques and strategies must enable you to stand back, see the bigger picture and with your knowledge of the pupil or the situation, de-personalise the comments and respond in such a manner that the focus is on the behaviour chosen by the pupil rather than the emotional upset which may be intended.

Responses such as:

“What exactly do you mean by that?”


“What did you just say?”

Not only give the pupil the opportunity to repeat the unwanted comment, but will also lead you into a dialogue or argument that you most certainly do not want!

It does’nt even need to be a verbal response from you to show the pupil that they have indeed managed to hit the spot. Facial expression, passive or hostile behaviour patterns from you can highlight your vulnerability. Once the pupil has detected that you are being “sucked” into the scenario, they are likely to move up a gear, or even worse, involve other pupils in their plan. At this stage things can only deteriorate and you are left with a feeling of frustration, anger and worrying dent in your professional and personal moral.

Practical Tips

Remember that you are the role model in the teaching and learning environment. You are in the lead position in both teaching appropriate emotional responses, but also in practicing them.

If that overall reminder is sometimes forgotten in the heat of the moment and you feel yourself being pulled into a situation that really should not go any further,

Stand back either physically or emotionally. Try to see the situation from another point of view. What advice would you give a colleague in such a situation?
In the whole scheme of things is it really worth getting involved in something that really should be seen as trivial and not worth reacting to?

Once you have quickly thought through the two points above, what practical course of action do you have to avoid the personal involvement route?

When presented with a pupil who is arguing or making personal comments, don’t respond with a question:

“How dare you?” or “What have I told you about…..?”

Instead of the question response begin your response with a statement of understanding, such as:

“Yes, ok, but that is not the point.” or “I hear what your saying, but that is not the issue.”

Following such a response you must now focus on what you actually want the pupil to be doing . In other words, focus on appropriate behaviour, don’t get caught up in an argument about inappropriate and unwanted behaviour.

Another well used tip is to have a planned approach when managing a potentially personal situation.

Calm your self down before becoming involved. Use positive comments to pupils who are on task or not involved in the confrontation
Use calm verbal and non verbal signals. Think about facial expression and hand positions
Think about the situation/pupil using a risk assessment approach. What do you know about the pupil? What have previous confrontations led to? What worked/did not work previously?
Look at the potential challenge in “The big scheme of things.” Remember this is one pupil in one teaching situation in front of an audience who are all waiting to see what your response will be.

Without doubt, the controlled or planned approach enables you to become more proactive in your management style, gives you the time to think things through and finally gives you the opportunity to use and role model the social and emotional skills that your pupils and learn in a formal teaching situation, but can also “catch” from real life action.

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