How would you handle a student who is constantly disruptive and defiant?

The question may seem hypothetical to teachers with little experience, or to those of us lucky to teach at some Ivy League university, or at similar educational institution where one has to pay to play. In reality though, disruptive students form a daily bread of teachers all around the world, and you will always encounter at least some of them in your teaching practice.

How will you deal with such a student? And what impact will their behavior have on you? Are you ready to handle it emotionally? And what about the impact such a behavior (and your eventual reaction) will have on the rest of the classroom? School principal has all these questions on their mind while talking to you.

The key is to ensure them that you will keep a cool head, regardless of what happens. Sure enough, you won’t just let them disrupt the lesson and make everyone else’s life difficult. But you won’t explode emotionally, you won’t let them get into your head. At the end, that’s what many students are after when acting disruptively. They want to break you.

On the contrary, you will calmly instruct them to stop their behavior, ask them out of the class, punish them, send them to principal’s office (if nothing else works). And you won’t stop there. You will actually try to solve the problem. Asking school psychologist for help, or talking to the parents of the student in question, are just some of the steps you can suggest taking.

Let’s have a look at 4 sample answers to the question. I hope at least one of them will resonate with you, and with the message you try to convey to the interviewing panel. Do not forget to check also the hints below the list of sample answers, in order to avoid the most common mistakes job seekers do.


4 sample answers to “How would you handle a student who is constantly disruptive and defiant?” interview question

  1. First of all, I would do my best to prevent this from occurring. Setting clear rules of discipline with the students right from the start, during the first lesson, is the first step to take. But I will also try to make sure that I lead the lessons in an engaging and interesting way. If students find the classes interesting, they won’t act disruptively. Having said that, I understand it can still happen. If it does, I will have a system of steps ready. First one can be verbal warning, second one punishment, third one sending them to principal’s office. Of course, if you hire me I prefer to discuss these exact steps with the school leaders, to make sure that I do not create unnecessary extra work for my colleagues.
  2. Well, I definitely won’t let them spoil the entire classroom. Because it can easily happen, and I’ve seen it happen before. So I will try to stop their behavior as quickly as possible, and I will be strict. Give them a clear deadline, and if they do not obey, they have to get out of the class. Having said that, I understand the issue is more complex. Students who are constantly disruptive and defiant often face mental issues, or they come from a difficult family background. For this reason, it is important to involve other professionals while addressing the issue. Case manager, school psychologist, their parents or guardians, various counselors employed at school–all of them can help to eventually address the issue, and make sure that the student can be a part of the classroom.
  3. In my opinion, the most important thing is to keep a cool head. Because when you try your best, and care about each student, it is easy to burst out emotionally, or even say something you will regret later on, while dealing with disruptive behavior in a classroom. So it is important to remind yourself to take it easy, to not get emotional. Then you should try to address their behavior, and here I definitely vouch for an individual approach. In some cases, students may act disruptively simply because they do not find the lesson engaging enough. That one is relatively easy to address, because we can always adjust our teaching methods, or try something to make them more involved in the lesson. But it can be also personal, or some psychological problem, and it is important to understand it and address it accordingly. In my opinion, knowing the file of each student, as well as having a one on one with them when similar issue persists, trying to understand the core of the problem, is really the most important thing. Once we know what’s wrong, we can always address it.
  4. This is my first job application, and I have not faced a similar situation yet. But i am not naive, and know that despite my best efforts, some students will not oblige to the rules. They will act defiantly, and they may try to make my life really difficult. I won’t to assure you that I am ready for such a behavior, and that it won’t impact me emotionally. At the end of the day, in each class you have the best and the worst students. You have to count with that. And I will try to address any disruptive behavior following the standard procedures you have in place here–be it some punishment, contacting the parents, or anything else that works. I hope to learn more about these remedies from experienced teachers working at the school.

* Special Tip: This isn’t the only tricky question you will face in your interview. You will face questions about conflicts with students, dealing with parents, and other tricky situations you may face in the classroom and outside of it. If you want to make sure you won’t answer such questions with embarrassing silence, have a look at the latest edition of my eBook, the Teacher Interview Guide. Premium answers to all questions you can possibly face in your job interview will help you gain confidence, outclass your competitors, and get the job. Thank you for checking it out!


Show your readiness to cooperate with other professionals

It is important to ensure the interviewers that you know where your competences end. You are a teacher, not a psychologist or a case manager. And while you won’t pick up a phone and call someone with the very first disruption in the classroom, you will contact responsible professionals when a situation demands it, when you cannot handle the student.

Remember that each school district employs all sorts of counselors and psychologists. These people earn no small money, and they deserve every penny. It is their job to try and talk to students who are constantly disruptive and defiant, and somehow get them back on track. Or, in the worse case, decide that they have to leave the school. But this is their responsibility, and not yours…

Admit that you can also bear some guilt

As a rule of a thumb, if students are engaged in the lesson, they won’t make problems. Of course, it isn’t possible to motivate every single student, and sometimes they just won’t obey the rules, regardless how hard you try to make the lesson the most interesting lesson in the world. But it is still good to say that you do not seek the fault only in the others.

Why is the student misbehaving? Maybe you can try another teaching method, or give them a chance to express themselves in a meaningful way instead of a meaningless one, and so on. Ensure the principal that you will always try to look at the situation complexly, and that includes also the quality of your teaching…

Ready to answer this one? I hope so! Have a look at sample answers to other tricky interview questions for teachers:

Glen Hughins
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