Working with difficult students – Vladimira Chalyova

Meeting Everyone’s Needs   – Vladimira Chalyova

I believe in second chances. In fact, I believe in giving second chances for as long as they’re needed. That’s basically my attitude towards difficult students, though I cannot really relate to putting the word difficult next to the word student. For me, such students are either lacking something or have more to give than the teacher is asking them to give.

I am convinced that such students would thrive if they were given enough opportunities to express themselves.  Unfortunately, it’s unlikely they’ll come right out and explain what they need. They might not even realize what they need. That’s why it’s so important to be a careful observer and an active listener.

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs is a good frame of reference.


There’s probably not much you can do to help with the basic physiological needs at the bottom of the pyramid, but you can work to understand where students are coming from and how that might be contributing to classroom behavior.  With such understanding you’ll know that students who are falling asleep aren’t bored. They’re lacking a basic need: sleep, and there’s a reason for that. Talk with them privately learn about their situation and thus avoid misunderstandings. With higher level needs such a love, esteem, and self-actualization you’ll probably find something lacking in every challenging student you encounter. Think about:

  • The way you teach: your beliefs versus their needs and expectations.
  • The atmosphere in the group: is it supportive, safe and friendly?
  • Your own personality: are you always fair, open and understanding?
  • The bigger picture: do students know why they are doing what they’re doing?
  • Space: is there space and time for students to put their personalities into their work.

If I’m able to eliminate issues related to basic needs, I can focus on belonging, esteem and self-actualization by asking myself questions like those in this illustration:

These ideas from John Medina’s book Brain Rules is also a framework:

  1. We can fully concentrate for only 10 minutes. Then it is time to wake up the brain with a break that is somehow related to the topic.
  2. Our brain loves balance so provide a combination of rules and improvisation. Make it clear how things work but give time and space to practice it in various situations.  Don’t let students wander around hopelessly in exercises or feel stupid because they can’t get a rule from context because their brain works differently.
  3. The more senses you involve while learning, the stronger the memory path that is created and I presume the more students will remember. Definitely, learning will be more enjoyable.

By paying attention to brain rules like these  — especially with teens and young adults — we make learning actively purposeful and therefore increase the level of class satisfaction.

Psychologist Ed Diener writes thatpeople evaluate their own lives more highly when others in society also have their needs fulfilled. Thus life satisfaction is not just an individual affair, but depends substantially also on the quality of life of one’s fellow citizens.”

Replace the words lives/life, society and citizen with learning, the class and classmate.

The spirit of a class is as important as the information we pass to our students. If everyone in class is learning happily and needs are being met, challenging students are less likely to be difficult.

~  Vladimira Chalyova

Connect with Vladimira, Chuck, Scott, Tamas,  Nour, Ann and other iTDi Associates, Mentors, and Faculty by joining iTDi Community. Sign Up For A Free iTDi Account to create your profile and get immediate access to our social forums and trial lessons from our English For Teachers and Teacher Development courses.

Like what we do? Become an iTDi Patron.
Your support makes a difference.

About Vladimira

Vladimira Chalyova teaches English as a foreign language at State Language School in Slovakia. She teaches general and business English to adults and teenagers. She is interested in student-centered approaches, developing learners' autonomy and believes that a teacher shouldn't be a slave of course books and that inspiration, motivation, purpose and meaning are essential in learning. She brings colours, crayons and surpr@ise (surprise + praise) to her classroom and just recently also on the canvas.