Because Cottonwood Press is creating an updated edition of our book Survival Tips for New Teachers, I've been thinking about dealing with difficult kids lately. One of the things we probably don't want to tell new teachers is that their reward for being able to handle difficult students will be that other difficult students will be transferred to their classes. Even if you love your students and are great at your job, a classroom full of the school's problem kids is not easy for any teacher.
I discovered an interesting approach to the problem when I was teaching. A counselor came to me begging me to take a student who had been kicked out of another English class. The student was a big behavior problem and was also failing most classes. I happened to be teaching an honors English class at the time, so I told the counselor I would take the student if she would put him in my honors class.
She thought I was crazy, but I insisted. My theory was this: in a classroom of low-achieving students, the student's behavior would be rewarded. The kids would likely egg him on. In the honors class, the kids would not encourage him. They would help keep him in line. And, while he might not be working at the same level as the other students, he would likely learn more than he would in a class where his time was spent acting out.
It worked. No, he wasn't transformed overnight into a model student, but he behaved. He listened. He tried, at least some of the time, which was a great improvement over the past.
I repeated that technique over the years, and I found it always to be successful. A difficult student in an honors or gifted class always proved much more manageable than a difficult student in a "regular" class or a class of low achievers.