How to Deal With Complaining From Students

Dear Kid Whisperer,

I have decided to give my 8th grade students assigned seats for the rest of the year to help with behaviors. Could you give me a bunch of quick, witty comebacks for all of the complaining that I am going to deal with from these students? -Shane, Miami, Florida


I could, but I won’t.

Having a bunch of cute things to say in response to complaining or arguing is a bad idea for two reasons:

1) You have to maintain enough mental bandwidth to actually teach. On average, teachers make 1,500 educational decisions per day. I know that as a teacher, I never had enough brain power to come up with, remember, and then use, lots of witty comebacks. When I tried, it was too stressful and taxing on my tiny brain.

2) Responding with lots of different words to kids’ obnoxiousness is not effective. It is entertaining for a kid to hear a variety of words every time they try to whine, no matter what those words are. If the response is witty or sarcastic, it will cause difficult students to react by arguing more and in a nastier way in order to “out sarcasm” their teacher so they aren’t shown up in front of their friends.

Instead, just say the same thing every single time kids complain. It doesn’t matter what it is as long as it is not sarcastic or mean. Here’s how I would handle it in your classroom, and I would do all of this with a dopey smile on my face:

Kid Whisperer: I will begin teaching as soon as you are all sitting in your assigned seats according to the chart on the board. I found this to be necessary because some of you are struggling with being next to each other without causing a problem. Thanks for understanding.

Kid #1: Thaaaat’s not fair-uh!

Kid Whisperer: For realz. When will I begin?

Kid #2: What? What does that mean?! Do we really have to do assigned seats? We are not babies!

Kid Whisperer: For realz. When will I begin?

Kid #3: This is so stupid. My brother’s teacher lets him sit wherever he wants because he has behavior problems and needs his space.

Kid Whisperer: For realz. When will I begin?

Kid #4: My mom says you’ve been doing all this stuff since you started reading a newspaper column and I do not think that this is OK! We are all going to sign a petition that says you can’t do this to us anymore! We have rights!

Kid Whisperer: For realz. When will I begin?

Kids grumble and complain in mumbling voices to themselves as they sit down angrily.

Kid Whisperer: Today we will be continuing to work on identifying rational and irrational numbers…

If the arguing becomes so out of control that it impedes learning, tell the students involved that there will be a consequence later, and have the kid(s) practice not arguing with you while sitting silently in his/ their assigned seat(s) for a very long time during non-instructional time.

Be boring when kids try to argue. Be exciting when you are instructing. Eventually, kids will know that the best way to see an excitable teacher is to sit down, be quiet, and pay attention to you!