Your “Problem Student” Might Be Your Greatest Asset.

Don’t tune them out just yet…

Brit McGinnis
5 min readJul 31, 2018
Source: Pixabay.

Every class has that one student.

You know the one: The person that asks a thousand questions in a short amount of time. The one who can’t stand to be ignored. The constant fact-checker. The over-reporter.

You’re supposed to be the teacher, eager to convey knowledge and shepherd all your students toward greater knowledge.

But this person’s just annoying. Or bad. Or icky. In any case, you find yourself fantasizing about what it would be like if they were out of the class.

Don’t. Not just yet.

That student may be the secret to your course’s success!

When your student is very enthusiastic…

This is a good thing! I promise, it is.

A super enthusiastic student can be annoying, yes. But they can also be your course’s greatest advocate.

Ask the student what they think of lesson plans before you publish them to the rest of the class. Deem them Official Auditor or Teaching Assistant and have them take notes during classes. Asking a student for feedback or giving them a job will harness their energy in a healthy, constructive way.

When your student sends you a million emails…

Don’t answer them.

Okay, not really. You should answer questions from your students when they come! But your students are not paying to speak with a chatbot. They’re paying to speak with you. Set “office hours” for yourself and keep them. You’ll be a lot happier.

Prompt the student to share what they’ve learned. Tell them whenever they’ve asked a new or novel question. If they’re sending you frequent inquiries or new ideas, this is a sign that they’re comfortable with you.

When your student derails the topic, interrupts, or is otherwise just not focused…

You have a few choices here.

First, do what you can to steer the student back to where they need to be. An excited student is good. Hopefully they can go back.

Most of the time, people will snap back to attention when they’re told to do so. People don’t mind being reminded of the rules most of the time. And chances are, this student was just so excited to start the course and meet all your cool students that they couldn’t control themselves.

This is the untold truth about teaching: Your students notice everything. Even if they never speak up or contribute to discussions, they are silently watching everything that you do.

How you act with one student speaks volumes about what you think about your students in general. That isn’t lost on them.

So as annoying as it may be, do your best to just consistently drive the student back to the topic at hand. If they’re genuinely sorry every time they stray and are making an effort to contribute to the class, you’ll have no problem with time. If they act negatively, then you can start thinking about more drastic solutions.

When your student is rude…

Take action. But before you go off and start trying to refer them to Emily Post, stop and think about if you said anything about rudeness from the get-go.

Did you set the standards for rudeness in your class before it started? If not, then this student’s behavior is your fault.

I know, it sounds harsh. But this is why it’s so important to set up standards for behavior in your class even before people register. Write them out for yourself. Compare them against the standards of other classes. Ask your community manager friends if they would work in the places that they manage. The talk about these rules on the first day of your class.

But if you didn’t think to do this and you’ve suddenly got a graceless Gore Vidal on your hands, don’t panic. This is your chance to establish authority with the rest of the students.

Reprimand the student, in front of the other students. Be clear about the consequences of their actions and why you’re upset with them. Be firm. Be consistent.

It can be very difficult to confront students who delight in trolling or son’t see why being rude to other people in a virtual setting is a big deal. But this is your chance to establish why you are a teacher and they are not. You will make your other students feel more comfortable around you as a result.

When your student is toxic…

This is when you take action.

By “toxic,” we’re talking about harassing other students, harassing you, or derailing the lessons regularly enough that other students are concerned or are ready to leave.

Do not abide these students. You are the teacher, and it is your responsibility to ensure that each student in your course feels safe and able to learn.

Decide for yourself what your line is for asking a student to leave and follow through with it. Educate yourself on the laws around online abuse and harassment in your area (because it does differ depending on where you live). Take the steps and preparations necessary to to protect yourself and your students.

There is one silver lining to these students: You’ll learn very quickly whether you’re well suited to teaching in general. If you can handle a toxic student, you can handle anything.

In short: Don’t worry about bad students.

Hopefully this article hasn’t scared you away from teaching! It’s important to be prepared for whatever students may sign up for your course.

The vast majority of them will not be toxic derailers who signed up for your course just to troll you. But write out a plan for if that does happen, and you won’t be taken off guard if it does. That’s truly the worst outcome—not knowing what to do, freezing, and then doing something you regret.

Of course, reach out to us at Coursecraft if you need help working through an issue. We’re happy to help you work through difficult situations so you can help your students learn best!



Brit McGinnis

Copyeditor. Copywriter. Community Manager. Your horror hostess. Writer of romance novels. Golden Rose Judge. Cited Cruella de Vil expert. Feeder of crows.