Dear Barbara ...
I've created the Dear Barbara column as a way for subs to get answers to questions about any subbing topic or suggestions that may help you solve a specific problem in substitute teaching.

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What should I do when a few disruptive students ruin things for the rest?

Dear Barbara,

How do I manage a situation where I announce to the class that they will be rewarded with a 5 minute recess providing they all behave well.

The majority of the class is on their best behavior, but there are a few students behaving so badly that I do not want to administer any rewards to anyone.

Of course, that means the whole class would suffer because of a few. How should I handle this?

Thank you.


Dear Afia,

Your scenario is one that happens to subs all the time. By announcing that the class would be rewarded with a 5 minute recess if they all behaved perfectly, you have set a very high standard. There are always a few students who will act out for a sub.

You mentioned that the majority of the class was on their best behavior. They deserve to be rewarded. Find a way to give the class a 5 minute recess, but isolate the few who misbehaved. You can have them stand off to the side, or complete some work, while the others have their well deserved free time.

Students tell us that they feel frustrated and betrayed when a sub allows actions of a few to spoil things for the majority. They will respond with, “That's not fair.” Be sure to set up a reward system with realistic standards so that you can avoid these problems.


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