One of the top 5 student behavior issues teachers face is disrespect.  So today I want to review seven steps to dealing with disrespectful students.


What does disrespect mean to you?

Everyone has different ideas of what respectful behavior looks like and sound like.  Depending on how you grew up, your opinion on disrespectful behavior may differ from parents or other teachers.

For me sucking your teeth as a response to a direction is disrespectful. You, on the other hand, may just see it as background noise.

Determine what is disrespectful behavior for you so that you may communicate your expectations with your students.

Action Step 1: Make a list of the disrespectful behaviors
showing up in your classroom 

Don’t take it personal

Don’t view the disrespectful behavior as a personal attack.  Even if it is.

Part of doing business as a teacher is getting students to do what they don’t want to do ie. WORK, WRITE,  READ, SPEAK, COMPUTE, SIT.  And the list goes on and on, so you are already starting at a disadvantage here.

Some students don’t cope well with doing things they don’t want to do and become disrespectful. Therefore it’s really not about you. It is more about the task before them. It’s not personal (most of the time). 

How do I know this?  Because if they replaced you with an entirely different person, but in the same circumstances, the student will still be disrespectful.

Still, let’s be real.  There are going to be days when it’s going to get to you.  That’s OK. Cry, vent, throw some stuff (like a ball or something) and then reset your mind so that you can get back in the game.


Action Step 2: Put your  armor on
(it’s a mindset thing)

Consider the Reason

Find out why the student is being disrespectful. Remember, the top 4 functions for misbehavior are Avoidance, Attention, Power/Control and Habit.

So when facing disrespect from your student, consider this:  Is the student trying to avoid the given task or request?  Are they trying to gain control of the situation?  Are they getting attention from you or their peers?  Is the disrespectful behavior a habit or the way they talk when they are at home?

I’ve had  situations where the student’s comments did not match their intent. Meaning what came out of their mouth sounded very disrespectful.  But I could tell by their demeanor and behavior that they were just trying to communicate.

Action Step 3: Find the reason

Prepare to teach alternatives

You have to know what behaviors are acceptable for you and then be able to teach it.  What works for me in my classroom may not work for you.

For example, I had a student who was always talking back to me when I gave him a direction. I was continually redirecting his behavior without seeing any change.

So I sat with him 1:1 and said,

“When I tell you to do something there are three acceptable ways to respond.  If you respond this way, you won’t get in trouble and we will stay cool (Yes, I speak in their language sometimes).

The first way, you can be absolutely silent and say nothing.  

The second way, you can say the ‘OK’ or ‘Ok, Ms. Holiday’. 

The third way, you say, ‘ Yes’, or ‘Yes, Ms, Holiday.’  Do you understand?”

He nodded his head yes.  Then I asked him, “Which one do you want to use?”  

He told me, ” I’ll just say Yes, Ms. Holiday.”

A few minutes later, I gave him an opportunity to practice what we just reviewed. He used the response that he chose.

I immediately followed his behavior with  great feedback.  And from that point on, the talking back behavior ended.

You can do the same thing.  

Don’t expect that all of your students know how to be respectful or respond in a respectful manner.  I always assume that they don’t know or may need a refresher. So I make sure to teach what I expect from them. This way,  I know that my students have the tools they need to be respectful.


Action Step 4: Create mini-lesson that teach respectful behaviors
( that can be used 1:1 or in a group)

Brainstorm small consequences

Consequences are the action, activity or word that will take place once a certain behavior has occurred. Consequences can be negative or positive.

However, to inspire behavior change in this area, disrespectul students will need a negative consequence.

The student will need to lose out on something when they demonstrate disrespectful behaviors. You can use points, time owed or a preferred activity. It really is based on how your classroom management system is set up.

Many teachers deal with disrespect in two ways. Either they ignore it or send the student out of the classroom. First, do not ignore without a set plan to address it. Second,  I would suggest that you handle it in-house if possible.

When you send behavior issues out of your classroom, often it takes the power and control away from you and gives it to the other person. This gives the student the impression that you cannot handle them.

So decide what you have in your classroom environment that the student will lose if they continue with the disrespect. Make the consequence easy for you to deliver so that it does not disrupt your flow while teaching.

Action Step 5: Get your consequences lined up

Intervention Plan

Now it’s time to implement your intervention sequence:

First – Teach how to be respectful . Use verbal, written, modeling  and  role play methods in your lesson. Review the benefits of being respectful as well.

Second – Have your consequences ready so that you are not responding with your emotions.

Third  – Implement quickly and consistently.

Fourth – Evaluate to see if the plan working or more specifically is the behavior decreasing.

Action step 6: Start your intervention sequence

Focus on implementation

The goal of this step is to focus on following the sequence and being consistent.  Now that you have taught your student how to be respectful, you are doing one of two things:

1- Reinforcing the desired, pre-taught respectful behavior  (i.e. positive feedback)

2-You are giving earned consequences for the disrespectful behavior

Be consistent with both.

A few words of advice. Once you start, it often gets worse before it better, so don’t be surprised if the behavior escalates at the beginning.  Frankly, escalation usually means that your plan is working.  It means that the student just realized that things won’t be business as usual.

And if the behavior stops quickly, even better (that’s my favorite outcome).

Action Step 7:  Reinforce respect, Consequence disrespect


Sometimes student disrespect can seem like the worst behavior to deal with in the classroom.

It’s never easy to do what we do while being disrespected.  But you can turn it around with the seven steps listed above.

If you need more practical ways on how to implement these steps, schedule a free coaching session here or contact me here.  I’d love to help!

Other posts that you may find helpful:

Strategies for Habitual Behaviors

Strategies for Attention Seeking Behaviors

Strategies for Power & Control Behaviors

Strategies for Avoidance Behaviors




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7 Steps to Dealing With Disrespectful Students

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