How to Not Enter Into Useless Arguments With Students

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It’s easy to give directions.

“Mario, open your book.”

“Lucy, stop talking.”

“Roger, change your seat.”

“Anthony, put the blow torch away.”

If you find they have no ‘bite’–that when you give a direction, it gets challenged or debated, here’s why:

Every teacher has rules–but there is no force to them unless you have a consequence that matters to the student. Many teachers have abstract consequences–warnings, an eventual call home to the parent, a nebulous threat of talking to the counselor. None of these matter to the student in the short term-therefore the challenge or argument. Therefore constant redirecting. Therefore teacher burnout.

Very few teachers have the following rule: “There is no arguing with directions.”

Make that one of your rules.

That means, whenever you give a direction, it must be immediately complied with without debate.

If you have an immediate consequence for non-compliance that matters to the student, the student will comply.

Try a fifteen minute detention after school, and forget the warning system.

Whenever I tell a student to change their seat, they change it–not because I am built like Arnold Schwarzaneggar, but because if they do anything but change their seat they know they have 15 minutes after school. Non-negotiable. That means it’s not worth it for them to argue, so they don’t.

You can make this happen with any direction.

Usually the next question I get from teachers is, “How do I get them to come to detention?”

We’ll save that for a later lesson–but if you caught the principle here you might figure that out too.

Meanwhile, starting tomorrow, try these steps:

1. Make it one of your rules that there is no arguing with staff (explain what you mean by arguing–answering back, debating).
2. Tell students if they do argue, they will receive a 15 minute detention after school.
3. Immediately change someone’s seat after the explanation so they get used to the new regimen.

If you follow through with the detentions, this will be the end of useless arguments and debates.

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