All teachers find it to be challenging to deal with oppositional students. But some students are especially frustrating because their behavior seems to stem from a sense of entitlement. They may be spoiled at home, and often display a smug attitude. They also tend to push against boundaries at school because they don't have them at home. Typically, this is the sort of student that gets under a teacher's skin the most.
But before you lose your cool, check out these tips on how to deal with entitled behavior in the classroom.
Clarity and Consistency Are Key
Entitled students often aren't used to having boundaries set for their behavior, so it's essential to be clear and consistent in your classroom. Develop rules that everyone must follow. Come up with these as a class and require everyone to agree to them. Create consequences and enforce them—no exceptions.
Further reading: 6 Tips for Managing Extreme Student Behaviors
Of course, entitled students will likely act as if this group contract doesn't apply to them. They will challenge the rules in a million different ways, but you must stay the course. Explain that this is a community in which all are equals, so no one is above the rules.
I had one such student who was used to getting his way. For example, on the morning of a field trip, he told me he was going to buy himself lunch. He rolled his eyes when I reminded him that I had made it clear that all students were supposed to bring their own lunches. He said he wanted to buy and I couldn't stop him from doing so. I responded, "What if everyone else was allowed to buy lunch, but you weren't? Would that seem fair to you?" He said he didn't care. "I don't believe that," I said. "I think you would be really upset that you weren't able to do something while everyone else could." His eyes teared up. He looked down, reached into his backpack, and put his bag lunch that he had brought with everybody else's.
Later that day, while he was eating lunch with his classmates, laughing and enjoying a day out of the classroom, I pulled him aside and asked him if he was having a good day. He smiled and said he was. "That makes me happy to hear," I said. "But if you had bought your lunch like you wanted, you would have had to eat in the cafeteria instead of out here with us." He smiled and ran back to his friends.
Because I was clear about establishing expectations and consistent in enforcing them, he ended up enjoying being a part of the classroom community.
The Importance of Empathy
It's a common teacher complaint that indulgent parenting produces spoiled children. But keep in mind that the roots of the behavior you read as entitled might be more complicated than you realize.
In my experience, entitled students are often scared to be a part of the classroom community. This might be because they're embarrassed about their own feelings of inadequacy, such as a physical or academic weakness they wish to hide. A little empathy can go a long way toward helping these students overcome their insecurities. For example, if a student is refusing to work on a group project, ask, "Is there a reason you don't want to participate? Is there something you're not telling me that you'd like to discuss in private?" This can encourage them to either talk about an issue they have or realize that there isn't any issue at all.
Their behavior may be a way of calling out for help. They may feel sad, angry, frustrated, or ignored at home. Going against the flow might be a habit they developed as a way to feel valued, important, or simply to get noticed. Noticing and validating these feelings can go a long way toward bridging the gap between you and the student.
If parents are not forthcoming about being helpful, then you may have spotted the source of the problem. If not, getting them on board is crucial to dealing with issues of entitlement. Sometimes, kids act very differently at home than they do at school. Find out. Work together with parents to help the child and set up systems both in class and at home that create opportunities for success while also requiring responsibility.
Further reading: Case Study, Alphonse's Behavior Problems
An entitled student can cause a whole lot of frustration and discord. It's a definite challenge to figure out how to deal with entitled behavior in the classroom, but remember that an entitled student isn't a lost cause. Through a strategic and consistent approach, you can build a healthy relationship and help the student grow.