Pursuing Church School Success: Working with Difficult Students

In this series, we will feature resources and ideas that can increase the learning success of a Church school classroom. In each post, we will share some tips for classroom management and/or ideas for increased student participation. What we share is not a comprehensive list by any stretch of the imagination: there are many more ideas available. It is our hope that what we proffer can act as a starting point toward enhancing the learning that takes place in our Church school classroom. 

Have you ever experienced something like this: right in the middle of a Sunday Church school lesson, one student attempts to derail the class by creating unrelated noise, making faces, and/or answering questions with sass or inappropriate answers. What do you do in this scenario? How can you best care for and help this student, while also continuing to teach the rest of the class?

We set out to find some ideas for how to handle difficult students (or students having a difficult moment), and found quite a wide range of ideas. We will share a few of them with you, in the event that any of them will be helpful. Should you ever find yourself in a situation similar to the one described above, perhaps having read several of these ideas will help.

As always, we would really love to hear what you do. How do YOU handle difficult students or difficult moments in the classroom? Please share your wisdom with the community, so that we can all benefit and better lead our Sunday Church school students to Christ and His Church!

Here are the links that we found, in no particular order:


Have you found any of the 10 “tricks of the trade” mentioned here to be helpful as you face a student that’s disrupting the class? https://ministry-to-children.com/manage-behavior-problems/?

The author of this article suggests that teachers pretend that their most difficult students are well behaved, explaining why this suggestion works, and how to carry it out. “Practically, you’re going to smile and joke with them like you do those students who are near perfectly behaved. You’re going to make eye contact with them. You’re going to believe in them and have the expectation that they will follow rules and behave as you desire.

Although you’ll never stop being a vigilant observer of all your students, you’ll find yourself quite naturally refraining from hovering and micromanaging, warning and reminding, and glaring and glowering around them… Your stress level will drop a few notches and a sea of tension will drain from your classroom… But the real benefit resides within the heart, mind, and self-worth of the difficult students themselves.When you treat them like everyone else, they begin to feel like a valued member of the class.”

Though the article is not specifically Orthodox, showing this degree of acceptance and mercy to all is certainly how we Orthodox Christians should be treating our fellow humans! Read the article in its entirety here:


Many of the ideas offered here for working with difficult students (and/or a challenging class) are for a regular classroom with all-day classes. However, a handful of them can certainly apply to a Sunday Church school class. The tenth suggestion is particularly important, regardless of class size or length:



The author of this article offers four strategies for working with students who are disrupting a lesson. The  strategy of addressing sensory needs is not an oft-considered strategy, but it should be!



The writers of this article emphasize again and again the importance of communication: whether while setting up, justifying, or enforcing expectations, communication will need to be clear in any classroom, especially one which includes difficult students. https://www.thoughtco.com/tips-on-handling-difficult-students-2081545


What about older students with rude or disrespectful attitudes? This transcripted podcast offers some helpful suggestions, including the following twist in our way of thinking: “A discipline problem is anything that disrupts instruction. Anything. Which means that a child can be a discipline problem, but it also means that a teacher can be a discipline problem. When you choose not to escalate the situation as a teacher, you choose not to become a discipline problem, because the moment that you start getting in the last word with that student, you now are playing that student’s game. What you’re trying to do is get the student on your page, not get on the student’s page.” Read more (or listen to the podcast) here:



What if a “difficult” student is in truth genuinely upset about something, and not just trying to disrupt the class? This article encourages teachers to think about themselves and how they would react to an upset student, long before they experience something like this, so that they are able to better react in the moment. The author encourages teachers to think through what pushes their buttons, how they feel when their buttons are pushed, and how it impacts their relationship with the students. (The article also includes 5 ways to deescalate an upset student.) Read the article in its entirety here: http://friendofreading.blogspot.com/2015/08/5-ways-to-deescalate-upset-students-in_15.html


What if you don’t have just one difficult student in class? In this article, a classroom management expert addresses the concern of a reader who had not one or two, but SIX difficult, intentionally disruptive students in class.



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