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Understanding and Redirecting High School Misbehaviour: A Guide for Teachers

 IASEA - Boredom and Indiscipline in High School Students

In the diverse landscape of high school education, classroom misbehaviour stands out as a universal challenge that educators face. The complexity of teenagers’ emotions and behaviours, compounded by the academic and social pressures of high school, often manifests in ways that disrupt the learning environment.

This article aims to shed light on the underlying causes of teenagers’ misbehaviors, and offer you effective strategies to positively deal with them. By delving into the neuroscience behind behaviour and understanding the pivotal role of stress and emotions, you can gain valuable insights into managing your student’s attitudes in the classroom more effectively.

The Neuroscience Behind Misbehaviour: Brain Development in Adolescence

The teenage brain is still in development, undergoing significant changes that influence behaviour, decision-making, and emotional regulation. Neuroscience reveals that the prefrontal cortex, responsible for critical thinking and impulse control, is one of the last areas of the brain to mature.

This developmental timeline can lead to a gap between intellectual capabilities and emotional maturity, often resulting in impulsive and risk-taking behaviours among youth. Understanding this aspect of adolescent brain development can provide you with a framework to approach misbehaviour with empathy and tailored strategies that acknowledge the neurobiological underpinnings of your students' actions.


How Stress and Emotions Influence Behaviour

The adolescent brain is highly sensitive to stress, with stressors ranging from academic pressure to social dynamics triggering the amygdala, the brain's emotional center.

This heightened emotional response can lead to increased instances of misbehaviour as students grapple with complex feelings they may not fully understand or control.

Recognizing the influence of stress and emotions on behaviour better equips you with the knowledge to create supportive, understanding environments that can mitigate negative behaviours and promote positive interactions.

The Most Common, Disruptive, and Unacceptable Student Misbehaviours from Teachers' Perspective

In the quest to understand and manage classroom dynamics effectively, it's crucial to delve into the patterns of behaviour that disrupt the learning environment.

The study "Student Classroom Misbehavior: An Exploratory Study Based on Teachers' Perceptions", published in the Scientific World Journal, provides invaluable insights into the types of student behaviours that teachers find most challenging within the classroom setting:


  • Dealing with personal stuff       

  • Doing homework           

  • Using electronic devices for texting, playing games, surfing webpage, listening to music        

  • Drawing


2. TALKING OUT OF TURN          

  • Calling out         

  • Making remarks             

  • Having disruptive conversation


3. VERBAL AGGRESSION             

  • Teasing classmates        

  • Attacking classmates    

  • Quarrelling with classmates      

  • Speaking foul language



  • Disobedience/Refusing to carry out instructions            

  • Rudeness/Talking back, arguing with the teacher

  • Extreme cases: Threatens /physical aggression towards the teacher



  • Daydreaming

  • Idleness                             

  • Sleeping



  • Changing seats 

  • Wandering around the classroom          

  • Catching             

  • Running away from the classroom



  • Striking classmates        

  • Pushing classmates       

  • Destroying things


  • Habitual failure in submitting assignments

  • Copying homework                      

  • Non-verbal communication      

  • Via body language, facial expressions, papers  

  • Clowning                           

  • Playing 

  • Lateness to class                            

  • Eating/Drinking in the class        

  • Have not yet prepared textbook well                  

  • Passive engagement in class


It is imperative to recognize that behind every instance of misbehaviour lies a complex interplay of emotional and social factors. Adolescents, in the turbulent transition from childhood to adulthood, often exhibit behaviours that are more unconscious cries for help rather than mere acts of defiance.

Each teenager who displays any of these behaviours may be struggling with emotional or social issues at various stages and levels. This realization calls for a compassionate approach to discipline -  one that seeks to understand and address the underlying causes of disruptive behaviours.

By fostering an environment of empathy and support, you can mitigate these challenges by guiding your students toward positive developmental outcomes.


IASEA - Misbehaviour of a High School Student in the Classroom

Main Causes of Student Classroom Misbehaviour, and What to Do

Below you will find the most common reasons students may act out in class, and practical advice, along with examples, on how to mitigate these issues and promote positive behaviour.


1. Boredom

Boredom in the classroom arises when students feel the material is not engaging or relevant to their interests. This lack of stimulation can lead to disruptive behaviour as students seek ways to entertain themselves or others.

What to Do: Incorporate a variety of teaching methods, including interactive and hands-on activities, to cater to different learning styles. Active Learning is one of the top educational methodologies to deal with boredom. Offer choices in how students can complete assignments or participate in class to keep engagement high.

Example: To combat boredom and offer choices in learning, you can provide students with options for how they demonstrate mastery of a topic. For instance, instead of a traditional written report, students could choose to create a video presentation, design a poster, or even write a short play. This approach addresses different learning preferences and empowers students to take ownership of their learning. For a history lesson on World War II, for instance, options might include analyzing and presenting a historical figure’s impact through a creative project, or constructing a diorama of a significant battle.


2. Lack of Interest

Students often misbehave when they find the subject matter uninteresting or disconnected from their personal lives or future goals.

What to Do: Connect lessons to real-world applications and students’ interests. Invite them to contribute topics for discussion or projects, making learning more personalized and relevant.

Example: Spark curiosity by linking curriculum topics to current events or students' potential career paths. For instance, if the lesson is on renewable energy, have students research and present how new technologies in this field could impact their community or future job opportunities. Encourage them to think critically about how the subject matter might influence their lives, thereby making the material more engaging and relevant.

3. Emotional Difficulties

Emotional struggles, such as anxiety or depression, can manifest as classroom misbehaviour, as students may act out in response to internal turmoil.

What to Do: Create a supportive classroom environment where students feel safe to express their emotions. Provide resources for professional support and implement social-emotional learning activities.

Example: Host a movie session with films that portray teenage emotional struggles, ensuring the content is appropriate for the classroom. After the viewing, facilitate an open discussion where students can reflect on the characters' experiences and relate them to real-life situations.

Encourage them to share their thoughts and feelings, and guide the conversation towards coping strategies and support systems, emphasizing the importance of understanding and managing one's emotions. 

For those who may be dealing with more intense issues, set up a discreet appointment with the school counsellor. This approach ensures that students know they have a support system within the school.

4. Lack of Quality Parental Education

Students may exhibit behavioural issues if their parents or guardians lack the education or resources to support their learning and development adequately.

What to Do: Engage with parents through workshops or resources that empower them to support their children’s education.

Example: Organize an educational workshop for parents that covers topics of positive discipline. Offer this session after work hours to ensure maximum participation, and provide takeaway materials for reference.


5. Low Self-confidence

Students with low self-confidence may engage in disruptive behavior to mask insecurities or to avoid exposing their perceived inadequacies.

What to Do: Foster a positive classroom culture that celebrates effort and improvement. Provide constructive feedback and opportunities for success to build self-esteem.

Example: Implement a system where you highlight every week a student for their efforts, regardless of the outcome. Display their work or note, and discuss what they did well and how they improved. This recognition boosts confidence and encourages a mindset of growth and continuous effort.

6. Low Academic Self-esteem

Similar to low self-confidence, students with low academic self-esteem may fear academic tasks, leading to avoidance behaviours. Academic difficulties can result in behavioural issues as a defence mechanism against perceived failure.

What to Do: Implement differentiated instruction to meet students at their level and gradually increase challenges. Offer targeted academic support and adjustments in workload or complexity. Use positive reinforcement to encourage effort and progress. Celebrate academic achievements, no matter how small.

Example: For a student who struggles with math, instead of giving the full set of problems, start with a few that cover the fundamental concepts. As these are mastered, gradually introduce more complex problems. Celebrate each milestone, no matter how small, such as completing a challenging problem or improving a test score, to boost their academic confidence.


7. Lack of Developed Creative and Critical Thinking Skills

Students may become frustrated and act out if they struggle with problem-solving or thinking independently.


What to Do: Incorporate critical thinking and creativity exercises into your curriculum. Encourage open-ended questions and allow for exploration and experimentation in learning.

Example: Initiate a monthly 'Solution Hour' where students tackle a problem without a set procedure for solving it. They might brainstorm solutions to personal problems, a community issue or a common inconvenience. The goal isn't to find the perfect answer but to explore and discuss various solutions, cultivating their creative and critical thinking skills.

8. Personal Insecurities and Fears

Personal insecurities, including fear of failure or rejection, can lead to defensive or disruptive behaviour in the classroom.

What to Do: Create a classroom atmosphere that values mistakes as learning opportunities. Encourage peer support and model empathy and understanding in all interactions.

Example: Design an activity where failure is an expected part of the learning process. For instance, in a science experiment, encourage students to predict various outcomes, including incorrect ones, and discuss the results openly. Highlight that each 'failed' attempt is a step towards understanding and success, reducing the stigma around failure and rejection.

9. Poor Attitudes

Negative attitudes towards school, teachers, or subjects can manifest as classroom misbehaviour.

What to Do: Address the root causes of negative attitudes through dialogue and try to reframe students’ perspectives. Offer leadership roles or responsibilities to foster a sense of ownership and positivity.

Example: When encountering a student with a persistently negative attitude, have a one-on-one conversation to understand their perspective. Then, work together to identify a project or topic they feel passionate about. Encouraging them to lead a class discussion or project on this topic can help shift their attitude by giving them a platform to engage in a way that feels meaningful to them.


10. Lack of Clear Expectations about Classroom Behavior and Engagement

Ambiguity in rules and expectations can lead to boundary testing and misbehaviour.

What to Do: Establish and communicate clear, consistent rules and expectations from the start. Involve students in setting classroom norms to increase buy-in.

Example: At the beginning of the term, collaborate with students to create a 'Classroom Constitution' that outlines expected discipline behaviours, rules, routines, and consequences for misbehaviour.

This not only clarifies expectations but also gives students a sense of ownership and responsibility for their actions. Review and have students reaffirm their commitment to these norms regularly to maintain a structured and respectful learning environment


11. Low Self-control

A lack of self-regulation skills can make it challenging for students to manage their impulses, leading to disruptive behaviour.


What to Do: Teach and practice self-regulation strategies within the classroom. Incorporate mindfulness activities and provide clear, consistent guidelines for behavior.

Example: As part of the  'Classroom Constitution', include an ‘Self-Regulation Article’.  Establish that, every time you say the name of a student followed by “Center the Thoughts and Control impulses”, the student has to close his eyes and take five deep, focused breaths.


12. Lack of Negative Consequences

Without consistent and meaningful consequences, students may not understand the seriousness of their actions.

What to Do: Apply consequences that are fair, consistent, and constructive. Ensure that they are understood as part of the learning process rather than purely punitive measures.

Example: If a student seriously interrupts the class, rather than sending them straight out of the room, assign them the task of writing a brief reflection on how their actions impacted the class, the friends, themselves, and what they could do differently next time. This approach helps them understand the consequences of their actions and the importance of maintaining a constructive classroom environment.

13. Lack of Connection with the Teacher and Peers

A sense of isolation or lack of belonging can lead to attention-seeking or disruptive behaviour.

What to Do: Foster a classroom community that values each member. Use team-building activities and ensure every student feels seen and heard.

Example: Organize regular small-group activities that rotate, ensuring students work with all their classmates over time. Additionally, schedule periodic '5 Minutes with the Teacher' sessions where students can privately share their interests and concerns with you in a more relaxed setting. This can help build a stronger, more inclusive community feeling in the classroom.

14. A Plea for Attention or Connection

Sometimes, misbehaviour is not about the behaviour itself but what it signifies—a student's need for attention or a deeper connection with others. This can stem from feeling unnoticed, unappreciated, or misunderstood by peers and adults in their school environment.

What to Do: Make an effort to understand and fulfill these students' needs for attention and connection in positive ways. Personalize your interactions by acknowledging their presence, contributions, and achievements regularly. Implement peer mentoring programs or group activities that promote collaboration and social interaction.

Example: When you notice a student acting out for attention, consider assigning them a role or task during lessons that highlight their strengths and contributions. For example, if a student is artistically inclined, ask them to illustrate a concept being discussed in class. This not only provides them with the attention they seek in a constructive manner but also helps them form a positive connection with the classroom and their peers.

15. ADHD, Autism, and/or Dyslexia

Neurodiverse conditions such as ADHD, autism, and dyslexia can significantly impact a student's behaviour and learning in the classroom. These students might find it challenging to focus, communicate, or process information in the same way their peers do, leading to behaviours that are misunderstood as misbehaviour.

What to Do: Adapt your teaching strategies to accommodate these differences. This might include offering more breaks for students with ADHD, using clear and direct communication for students on the autism spectrum, or providing reading materials in alternative formats for students with dyslexia. Collaborate with special education professionals to ensure your strategies are effective and inclusive.

Example: For a student with ADHD, breaking down tasks into smaller, manageable steps with visual cues can help maintain their focus and reduce feelings of overwhelm. For a student with autism, establishing a predictable routine and using visual schedules can reduce anxiety and improve engagement. For a student with dyslexia, providing texts in audio format or using fonts designed for dyslexia can make reading tasks more accessible. These tailored approaches acknowledge each student's unique needs, promoting a more inclusive and supportive learning environment.


Beyond the Classroom: The Long-term Impact of Managing Misbehavior

Academic Success and Life Skills

Effectively managing misbehaviour does more than restore classroom order; it sets the stage for significant long-term benefits. Students learn to navigate challenges, develop self-discipline, and appreciate the value of hard work and persistence.

These strategies transcend academic achievement, equipping students with critical life skills such as time management, conflict resolution, and effective communication. By fostering a positive learning environment, you are helping your students to build a foundation for lifelong learning and success.

Personal and Professional Growth

Addressing misbehaviour constructively encourages students to reflect on their actions and understand their impact on others, fostering empathy and emotional intelligence. These skills are invaluable in personal development and professional environments, where teamwork, leadership, and interpersonal relationships are key.

Moreover, students who learn to adapt positively to feedback and criticism are more likely to embrace opportunities for personal and professional growth, showing resilience in the face of challenges.

Building Resilience and Emotional Well-being

A classroom that effectively manages misbehaviour supports academic learning and emotional health. Students learn to cope with setbacks, understand and regulate their emotions, and support their peers, contributing to a resilient mindset. This emotional scaffolding is crucial in developing individuals who can face life's ups and downs with confidence and poise, ready to contribute positively to society.


Recommended Reading for Teachers:

  1. "The First Days of School" by Harry K. Wong and Rosemary T. Wong - This book provides strategies for effective classroom management from day one.

  2. "Lost at School" by Ross W. Greene - Focuses on understanding and addressing the root causes of challenging behaviour.

  3. "Classroom Management That Works" by Robert J. Marzano - Offers research-based strategies for maintaining classroom discipline.



Managing student misbehaviour is a complex yet profoundly impactful aspect of teaching. The strategies discussed—spanning from creating engaging learning experiences to fostering emotional well-being and resilience—highlight the proactive steps you can take to mitigate disruptions and promote a positive classroom environment.

By implementing these strategies, and adopting a multifaceted approach that considers the various dimensions influencing student behaviour,, you can transform challenges into opportunities for growth, helping students develop the academic and life skills essential for success.


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