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Behavioral Issues in the Classroom

Teachers have a powerful role in a student’s life. Through their work, they can impact the way their students understand the world and be a long-lasting influence of good in their lives. That, however, does not mean teaching is an easy job. Particularly when faced with disruptive or defiant students, teaching can quickly turn from an opportunity to change lives to a fight for control of the classroom.

Disruptive and aggressive behavior can sometimes be the result of mental disorders. Some examples include oppositional defiant disorder (ODD), conduct disorder, and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Behavioral issues may also be associated with a poor home life. If you suspect your student may have an undiagnosed disorder or is being mistreated at home, enlisting the help of a school psychologist, social worker, or mental health provider could be beneficial. These individuals are trained professionals who can lend further help and assistance. The care and wellbeing of the student is first priority.

With that being said, disruptive and aggressive behaviors can have a damaging effect on the ability to teach within a classroom. These behaviors can be distracting for other students and take away from valuable instruction time. Here are some tips to deal with behavioral issues in the context of a classroom:

Try implementing the Good Behavior Game. This game involves dividing the classroom up into teams and setting clear criteria for good behavior. Violation of the rules (by not acting in line with the standards of “good behavior”) results in a point for the team whose member misbehaved. The team with the least amount of points at the end of class “wins” and can be rewarded with various prizes. This game utilizes peer pressure and the desire for social acceptance in order to promote positive behavior. It has also been found to be very effective in research trials (Barish et al., 1969).

Let the students help create the classroom rules. This is helpful for establishing clear expectations for the students while still letting their voices be heard (Everyday rules, 2003). Make sure rules are simple, clear, and consistently enforced. Remember to focus on the action of the student rather than the student as a whole person; you can do something bad and not be a bad person.

Have a structure throughout the day. Having a set schedule can be particularly helpful for students who struggle with distraction. If possible, try to schedule more difficult material for earlier in the day and vary the pace of activities (Identifying and Treating, 2009).

Avoid power struggles – defiant students often like to argue. Remain calm and detached during tense situations (Conduct Disorder Fact Sheet, 2014).

Praise positive behaviors. These behaviors could include sitting quietly, turning in work on time, raising your hand before talking, etc. It is important to do this sincerely and only for behaviors which are desired (Strategies for Teaching, 2018).

With strategy, patience, and consistency, problem behaviors in the classroom can be diminished.


Barrish, H., Saunders, M., & Wolf, M. (1969). Good behavior game: effects of individual contingencies for group consequences on disruptive behavior in a classroom. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 2(2), 119–.

Conduct Disorder Fact Sheet. (2014). Retrieved September 13, 2020, from Sheet_ConductDisorder14.pdf

Everyday rules that really work! This practical six-point plan for establishing rules and routines offers sure steps toward an orderly and productive classroom. (2003). Instructor (1990), 113(1), 25–.

Identifying and Treating Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder: A Resource for School and Home. (2009, February 13). Retrieved September 13, 2020, from

Strategies for Teaching Students with Behavioral Problems: Resilient Educator. (2018, April 06). Retrieved September 13, 2020, from


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