How to Deal with Rebellious (But Smart!) Students in Your Classroom


Problematic students with high intelligence levels make for a complex challenge in the classroom. To manage these students, you'll need to use a blend of compassion and creativity.

Rebellion in the Classroom

The common stereotype of the 'problem student' is a child who consistently disrupts lessons, irritates or bullies other students, and routinely fails assignments (and doesn't seem to care about their dismal grades). But what about problem students who perform extremely well academically? Students of this kind are much more complex. They possess all the traits of a child who clearly has no interest in learning, yet their strong test scores and obvious intelligence serve as proof of their talent and skills.


If you find yourself with a child who is clearly intelligent but also insistent on misbehaving, take a look at the tips and strategies listed below for some inspiration on how to deal with these students and unlock their full potential.

Understand the Source of the Problem

This approach works well for all students, not just your smart ones. Finding the root of a student's misbehavior is a huge step towards understanding and putting a stop to it.

Especially in the case of intelligent students, classroom misbehavior may be caused by a lack of engagement. Assignments are simply too easy, and the student will seek out another form of mental stimulation, occasionally in the form of causing trouble for you and your other students. For these students, acting rebellious is a means of proving how smart they are.

For other students, their behavior may be a result of circumstances outside of the classroom, particularly at home. Children who have a difficult home life may project their frustrations and problems onto other students. In some cases, children assume that what they witness at home is par for the course and may not even realize that their classroom behavior is unacceptable.

No matter the cause of your students' misbehavior, taking the time to understand their situation and demonstrating how much you care is crucial to managing their conduct. When you take the time to show that you truly care and want to help, students will generally respond well to such affection. Establishing yourself as a trustworthy and caring individual proves to your students that you are worthy of respect.


Even if you fail to form a close relationship with your problem students, your understanding of the situation will at the very least provide you with some insight as to how to respond to a child's actions in the future.

Avoid a Power Struggle

As difficult as it may seem, keeping your cool and taking the high road is absolutely essential in these situations. Troublesome students - especially those with above-average intelligence - take pleasure in knowing that they have pushed your buttons, and if they sense that they have irritated you, they will only increase their efforts. Even something as subtle as an eye roll or annoyed sigh will betray your frustration, so be extra careful in never letting them see you sweat.

No matter how impudent a student may be acting, you are the adult and you cannot stoop to their level. You can avoid conflicts by using proper language; instead of accusatory 'you' statements, focus on using 'I' statements so that your student does not become defensive.

You'll also need to accept the fact that you won't always get the last word. Having the final say may seem important from a power standpoint, but in effect, it simply prolongs the argument and will diminish your standing in the classroom among all of your students, not just the rebellious ones.

Students feed off the reactions of the elders, and keeping cool will go a long way in calming your students and resolving classroom conflicts.

Keep Them Engaged

If you have a student who frequently aces exams and finishes assignments before the rest of the class but still causes trouble, it is entirely possible that this student is simply bored. Without an academic challenge, the child is left to create his or her own amusement. Whether a student's disruptive behavior stems from boredom or some other cause, engaging and innovative classroom modifications help keep these children focused on their classwork and not on their misbehavior.


If standard classroom assignments are still too easy for your rebellious students, you can also devise entirely new activities specifically tailored for their interests. If your student is an especially avid reader, pick out a few challenging books and tell him or her to read these stories if they finish their assignments early. If your student is more interested in outer space, draw up some astronomy plans and offer them as a reward for good behavior.

While you should be careful not to make it seem like you are rewarding misbehavior with special attention, unique and entertaining assignments for your gifted problem students are an excellent way to boost their interest and cut down on their boredom.

happy ending

Rebellious and intelligent students pose a unique challenge for teachers, but with engaging assignments and mutual understanding, you can put an end to their misbehavior and encourage their academic growth.

By Bill Sands
May 2017
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