Dealing with REALLY Difficult Students

By Michelle Payne
Republished with permission from Music Teacher’s Helper

I’ve only had 2 students that I would consider REALLY difficult. The way I define this type of student is like this: They have a really bad attitude, they like to argue, they don’t practice, and they try to insult the teacher with personal remarks. Both of these students started acting like this upon their 10th Birthdays, and I have noticed that students in this age group tend to start arguing more frequently as they develop their individuality. To say it is frustrating is an understatement.

The first student would frequently ask me about my hair, make up and clothing. I would continuously explain that I would prefer to stay on the topic of music. In order to get me to react, she started taking it a step further by criticizing the way I look! Of course this hurt my feelings! I am a human being and not made of steel. I thought about it for a couple days and decided I would put her on probation. Why should I have to take abuse from a 10-year old?

I spent the following days before her next lesson trying to be compassionate and understanding of what it was like to be a 10-year old girl. I knew that her behavior was not ok, but I wasn’t going to scold her, because I truly believe that kids at this age just need to learn right from wrong when it comes to how you treat people. I wanted to give her a chance to change.

From the very start of the next lesson I told her that I was very unhappy with her behavior in the last lesson. I told her that her words were very hurtful and that I would not continue teaching her if she kept it up. I was very honest with her about my feelings being hurt. I did this on purpose, because I remember being a child and thinking that adults were invincible. She definitely looked surprised that she had the power to hurt my feelings. I’m glad I opened her eyes to this. I want to let my students know that it isn’t ok to treat *anyone* with disrespect, because it just simply hurts.

I explained that she would have 4 weeks to change her behavior. Each week we would check in at the end of each lesson. I needed to see improvements each week in order for me to continue teaching her.

She was not happy with this, but stated that she wanted to continue lessons. Her behavior improved dramatically after the 4 lessons, and I continued teaching her.

That was about 5 years ago. The second student is more recent. She’s definitely mean-spirited and loves to argue with me. As soon as I sense that she is trying to start a fight, I just say, “I’m not going to argue with you about this. Let’s move on.” And that’s the end of it.

I ended up giving her a very similar speech that I gave the first girl. She took me very seriously and seemed genuinely sorry for her behavior. We are currently in the probation period, and it is going okay. I’m still pretty unhappy with her, but I can tell she is trying. It’s just killing her to not argue with me!

Some readers may ask me why I did not just go to the parents. Well, I will if I have to, but I prefer to take care of the problem myself. I don’t really like giving my power away, and I find that the students respect me more when they see that I will not run to their mommy every time they make me mad. Anytime I have to get firm with any of my students for talking back, I get the feeling that they respect me more for that too. The bottom line is that kids not only need boundaries, but somewhere on a sub-concious level, they like boundaries, too.


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