Why You Shouldn’t Ask Misbehaving
Students To Explain Themselves
By Michael Linsin
When individual students misbehave, it’s common practice for teachers to pull them aside and ask why they did what they did.
But rarely is it a simple request—because the majority of students will be less than forthcoming in their response. They’ll deny and distract. They’ll argue and blame others. They’ll dig in their heels.
Rarely will they provide a satisfactory answer.
Teachers, understandably frustrated, will then demand an explanation. They’ll glare and jib-jab their finger. They’ll apply pressure. They’ll box-in and question like a lawyer sparring with an uncooperative witness.
And regardless of how the standoff ends, both parties will walk away annoyed with the other and feeling as if they lost something in the skirmish.
The truth is, although it is among the most commonly used methods of classroom management, pulling students aside to explain their misbehavior is a mistake.
It’s hard to put into words.
Most students have a difficult time articulating why they misbehaved, especially because they know you won’t like the answer. “Because I felt like it.” sounds disrespectful and is likely to further raise your ire.
But it’s true, when students misbehave it’s because, in that particular moment, they felt like it.
It causes resentment.
With no acceptable answer to give, students feel cornered and either clam up, argue, or lie about what happened, which makes the teacher more determined than ever to browbeat an answer from them.
This unnecessarily brings resentment and distrust into a relationship that must be positive and trusting if you’re to influence their behavior for the better.
The teacher’s motives are mixed up.
Most teachers don’t really want or need to know why students misbehave. They ask because they want them to accept responsibility. They want them to “face the music” and be held accountable for their actions.
But this is what a classroom management plan is for—to hold students accountable for every act of misbehavior. The difference is that a classroom management plan isn’t personal and doesn’t cause friction in the relationship.
It undermines real, effective accountability.
To students on the receiving end of a teacher interrogation, those several minutes feel like a consequence, especially if it ends with a lecture or a “Do you understand me?”
So when you add a time-out or a loss of recess to the equation, they feel so bitter that the last thing they’re going to do is reflect on their mistake. Instead, because you made it personal, they’ll blame you—which is no accountability at all.
Pulling students aside in an attempt to convince, persuade, manipulate, or use your words to personally hold them accountable is one of the greatest causes of teacher stress.
And because it offers only a temporary cessation of unruly behavior, and not true and lasting change, it’s a management style you’ll have to use every day—or even every hour. Ouch!
It’s Your Relationships
For classroom management to be most effective, your students must view your consequences as something they bring deservedly upon themselves, and for which they’re solely responsible.
This isn’t possible when you make it personal. It isn’t possible when you force an explanation for something you already know the answer to. It isn’t possible when you go back on your word by circumventing your classroom management plan.
Certainly you can be disappointed with students who misbehave, and in the right moment, you should tell them so.
But lecturing individual students, giving fire-breathing talking-tos, and demanding why they did this and that is a mistake that will backfire on you every time.
You can’t afford to weaken the bonds you make with your students—or obliterate them altogether with one ugly confrontation.
It’s your likeability and rapport and the one-on-one connections you make, after all, that give you the leverage and influence to whisper one simple phrase and have it affect them deeply.
The words echoing in their head long after you say them.
“You’re better than that.”