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The Magic Words to Keep Students From Pushing Your Buttons

Hello again,

I recently heard about a PE teacher (not at my school of course) who was involved in a shouting match with one of his students during class. The student had evidently done something or said something that made the teacher mad enough to stop what he was doing and engage in a loud argument with the 13-year-old.

When I heard about it, I thought, “What was the teacher thinking?”

“Who is the adult and who is the kid?”

“How can a college-educated adult get in a shouting match with one of his adolescent students?”

I found it really hard to believe.

Then I remembered an incident that happened when I was in my first year of teaching.

I was teaching something – I don’t remember – when a student in my class made a comment that made the entire class laugh. His comment was actually making fun of something I had said or done. I don’t remember (It was over 20 years ago). All I know is that he had pushed that make-fun-of-the-teacher button.

I lost it.

I started yelling.

He didn’t like that. He started yelling back, and there we were yelling at each other while the entire class watched.

I finally said, “Go to the office!”

As he left, he said, “I’m gonna put a cap in you.”

In the street language of the inner city neighborhood where I taught, that meant that he was going to shoot me.classroom management

When I reported it to administration, the boy was suspended for five days.

This, you have to remember, was before Columbine and Newtown.

I look back now, and realize that that incident could have been avoided had I not allowed him to push my button.

I had relinquished control of not only the class, but my emotions as well.

I learned a lot on that day.

Over the years, I’ve found myself in similar situations. Students have tried to push my buttons and cause me to lose my temper. Few have succeeded. Most have not.

I’ve learned the magic words that make my buttons unpushable. I just made up that word, I think.

What are these magic words, Sam?

I’m glad you asked.

They’re Just Kids.

That’s it.

Yes, they might be rude and disrespectful kids who have never been taught how to behave in class, but they’re still just kids.

When you see students as the immature, hormone-driven, identity-searching, irresponsible adolescents that they are, it changes how you react to their attempts to push your buttons.

Since my audience is primarily teachers who are new to the profession, I want to send this message loud and clear.

Don’t jeopardize your reputation, or in some cases, your job, by giving in to the temptation to respond to that student in anger.

Don’t be that teacher who is called in to the principal’s office, because that student’s parent is upset that a teacher berated his/her son/daughter.

Remember, they’re just kids.

So what would you do if you could have that moment again, Sam?

I’m glad you asked.

If a student wanted to make the class laugh at my expense today, I would smile, say, “That’s funny. See me after class.” And continue with my lesson.

After class, I would have a quiet one-on-one conversation with that student about respect. I might give him a consequence for being disruptive, but I would use that moment to teach a lesson. Why? Because he’s just a kid.

Hopefully, you’ll never have to find yourself in such a situation where you have to remember these magic words. Hopefully, you will have created an atmosphere in your classroom where there is mutual respect between you and the students and each other. Hopefully,  your sincere concern for your students will be so evident that they will come to your defense when someone tries to disrespect you.

Should one of those button-pushing moments arise, however, just remember those magic words:

They’re Just Kids.

Until next time,

Here’s to your Success in the Classroom!










  1. Michael Villanueva's Gravatar Michael Villanueva
    June 9, 2013    

    This is definitely a great reminder for teachers such as myselft at not losing the “cool” factor. Not that I was ever cool but it’s about keeping one’s temper and not letting your students see your Achilles’ heel.

    • Sam's Gravatar Sam
      June 9, 2013    

      Hello Michael. Thank you for your comment. I always felt bad when I would allow a student to push my buttons. Some students are really good at it. It’s all about seeing the kids as for who they are – kids. Thank you again for your comment. Sam

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