Avoiding Confrontations in the Classroom

Instructor: Millicent Kelly

Millicent has been teaching at the university level since 2004. She holds a Bachelor's degree in Criminal Justice and a Master's degree in Human Resources.

This lesson will look at strategies that can be used for avoiding classroom confrontations and power struggles between teachers and students. Both positive and negative actions in response to power struggles will be discussed.

Picture This!

You're teaching a lesson on the Holocaust to a class of 8th graders. You notice that Johnnie is not paying attention and is being somewhat disruptive during a serious and important lesson. You choose to ignore Johnnie's behavior for now and continue with the lesson when suddenly Johnnie jumps out of his seat and defiantly shouts 'why do we have to learn this bull.' In one moment, your entire classroom atmosphere is transformed, and the focus is now no longer on the lesson, but on Johnnie.

Your reaction to this incident is crucial, and it can either set a positive or negative tone for the rest of the school year. Whether you're teaching at the pre-school, elementary, middle, or high school level, student/teacher confrontations in the classroom are never acceptable and need to be addressed as they occur without turning into power struggles. By the end of this lesson, you will be familiar with effective strategies for handling classroom confrontations to avoid power struggles, so that you can appropriately deal with the Johnnies of this world.

Power Struggles

Classroom power struggles can arise out of a number of different situations and are usually instigated by students when they:

  • Believe a grade or situation to be unfair
  • Don't want to complete assigned work
  • See a situation as being unfair
  • Don't want to be told what to do

When students become confrontational in a classroom, they are primarily seeking to engage their teacher in a power struggle so they can appear as the winner in the classroom battle, and get attention and respect from their classmates. This needs to be dealt with effectively so that the teacher does not become involved in a power struggle, and can maintain the integrity of their classroom environment. Let's take a look at some ways to diffuse an escalating situation.

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