Challenging Behavior in Your Classroom?

Four students working at desks in classroom

How to Support Challenging Student Behavior in Your Classroom

Written By: Amanda Rinehart


The new school year has begun! I was in education, both in the classroom and as an administrator, for 16 years. Every year, I got the same feeling of excitement just like I did when I was a kid before school started. Oftentimes, that excitement wore off when I realized that I was going to need to know how to support challenging student behavior in my classroom.


As a child, the anticipation of who your new teacher would be, whether or not your best friend would be in your class, and realizing that you are going to get to challenge yourself with the unknown were all wrapped up in those first day jitters and excitement. 


As an educator, putting together your classroom, developing your policies and procedures, dividing your class roster into groups, making your seating arrangements, and developing organizational structures is what is wrapped up in the first day jitters and excitement. The new school year brings so much excitement and optimism. Even with the ever-changing and always stressful, demands, a sense of hopefulness always filled my mind and heart, as I am sure it does you too. 


I am a veteran educator. All of my experience has been in urban education. I was always the teacher that was assigned every behaviorally-challenged student that came through the grade level. Also, I worked with the Alternative Education Department for my school district. Therefore, I needed to know how to support challenging student behavior in my classroom every day. I have a masters degree in Applied Behavioral Analysis, and in Educational Leadership and Administration, and am trained in many different strategies for behavioral modification. Behavior is kinda my “thing”!


Little Johnny’s Behavior

Boy sticking his tongue out at teacher sitting on the classroom floor.

Not everyone can be an excellent educator. It takes a special kind of person to genuinely love a child like they are your own because that is truly what it takes. 


That being said, we all know that there is a “Little Johnny” in every classroom who tries your patience and who makes you question whether or not you’ve chosen the right profession. You know the kid, he sneaks behind you and runs to his friends’ desks while your back is turned. He is the kid who is tapping his pencil or whistling during a test or the one who constantly picks a fight with the other volatile child in your classroom. 


We all have them and we all have had our patience tried. But, if you are like me, you’re always searching for ways to improve your circumstances in your classroom and especially with “Little Johnny”. 


We know that students are coming to school with a lot more on their minds than they used to. Some kids are home alone in the evenings, caring for themselves and their siblings. Some kids are experiencing various types of abuse. Some kids only eat when they are at school. 


The research states that behavior challenges are one of the six most impactful results of child abuse and neglect. In the United States last year, the Department of Child Services received 3.8 million referrals. Simply based on the statistical odds, it is highly likely that the students in your class who demonstrate the most drastic behavior needs, have some form of child abuse or neglect occurring in their lives.


It seems unrealistic of us to expect them to perform well at school without proper support when they have the weight of the world on their shoulders. However, there are expectations for us and for them that are non-negotiable, and we have to figure out how to reach these students, academically.


Little Jimmy’s Behavior

Boy chasing girls.

“Little Jimmy”, the other superstar of maladaptive behavior in your class, has a whole different skill set in terms of ways to disrupt your class. You know this information on the first day of school because EVERYONE knows “Little Jimmy”, and not because of his frequent high honor roll status.  


Based on what everyone knows about “Little Jimmy”, his superpower is disrupting his classroom and driving his teacher bananas. Because of this, everyone has been led to believe that he has ADHD and from that misconception, the belief is that his parents are against medicine, so he will never get any better. Since everyone “knows” this to be true, this has become his truth. This scenario happens nearly everywhere. It is not anyone’s fault, but the biggest problem (besides Jimmy carrying around a stigma from year to year without being able to shake it), is that the “truth” is not the truth. 


Symptoms of ADHD and anxiety can look identical. In both circumstances, individuals demonstrate impulsive, easily distracted behaviors. ADHD and anxiety are very often misdiagnosed. In an almost ten year old article that was published in the Journal of Health Economics, the author says that there are nearly one million cases of individuals being misdiagnosed with ADHD, instead of anxiety. That was almost ten years ago, one could assume that number is much higher now. 


So, does Little Jimmy experience high levels of anxiety and NOT ADHD? We do not know, but that is what is important to remember. We don’t know. You know what they say about assuming! Let Jimmy start the new school year, without his stigma. Let him try to reinvent himself. Most importantly, be patient and try to understand Jimmy before doling out behavior modification and consequences.


How to Help

Chalkboard- A teacher takes a hand, opens a mind, and touches a heart.

In my seminars, I walk educators through processes, strategies and activities that will lead to ways to reach students just like “Johnny” and “Jimmy”. Behavior challenges are inevitable. But, the way you react to them is the key to your success, and the success of your students. It is important for you to know how to support challenging student behavior in your classroom.


I once had a principal tell me, much like Harry Wong once said, that if teachers are leaving school at the end of the day, dragging and exhausted, while the students sprint out of the building with as much energy as they came with, we are doing something wrong. I think it goes without saying that we should work smarter, not harder. In my seminars, I will help you to understand why your students could be behaving in a less than desirable manner and how you can taper down those behaviors in order to reach your goals. 


To gather more information on this topic read these blogs: 

How to best identify students with social-emotional needs

6 Tips on How to Reduce Misbehavior in the Classroom

Understanding the Impact of Trauma-Related Disorders on Students



I challenge you, this school year, to take the time to get to know “Little Johnny” and “Little Jimmy” before you begin implementing behavior modification and consequences. Try to understand why they are doing what they are doing. This information will provide you with the insight you may need to help Jimmy and Johnny succeed and maybe they will taper their own behavior if they know you are interested. 

For information on my upcoming seminars so that you will know how to support challenging student behavior in your classroom, contact us.  I’d love to see you there!


Further Reading:

Difficult Students and Disruptive Behavior in the Classroom: Teacher Responses That Work

Book Difficult Students, Disruptive Behavior in the Classroom

The Explosive Child: A New Approach for Understanding and Parenting Easily Frustrated, Chronically Inflexible Children

Book- The Explosive Child

Defusing Disruptive Behavior in the Classroom

Book- Defusing Disruptive Behavior in the Classroom



Written By

Amanda Rinehart
Amanda Rinehart, M.Ed.


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