I don’t Want to be Taught


There are some students who are very hard to teach, right? But notice that I did not write that there are some students who are impossible to teach. And, even though it’s very hard to teach some, it must be done because if it’s not, the alternative is just not good. I’ve spent most of my life working very hard to learn how to teach those students who others just don’t seem to be able to reach. This is really hard work. It’s so hard that most people don’t want to do it. But, notice again that I didn’t say that they can’t do it, but instead that they don’t want to do it. It’s possible and I know that it is because I live it everyday. Below is a brief explanation of how this works for me and how it can work for others who are willing to try. And, if you’re searching for ways to reach those students who just don’t seem reachable, you’re already in the right place because you care. I definitely don’t have all the answers and I definitely have more room to grow but what’s below might be the start of a journey that could transform the way you think about some students and more importantly, transform the life of a student.

Getting Started

Start with the belief that students should generally listen to their teachers and do what they’re told. Most likely, teachers are accustomed to this structure because they listened to their teachers and did what they were told. And, most likely, those same teachers were taught by their parents to listen and do what they were told. Parents are our primary attachment figures and provide care, love, and warmth. Above all else, they can be trusted and model what a caring relationship looks like.

Now, move to the understanding that students who do not listen and comply have not been taught to do so. However, it is not simply the absence of proper teaching that is the issue. The student who is defiant most likely has experienced a lack of proper primary attachment relationships in his or her life. They have not had the proper modeling of what a good caring and trusting relationship looks like. Actually, this lack of a primary attachment relationship negatively influences all future relationships.

Asking Questions

A teacher who experiences defiant behavior must understand that the behavior is not about them. The behavior is instead about past relationships and a lack of trust in future relationships.

So, let’s consider a question about when a defiant student disrupts a class:

What reason does the student have to listen to me?

Pay careful attention to this question. It is not:

What was the reason that the student did not listen to me?

The hard truth is that the student will not listen to the teacher or anyone else whom they do not trust. He or she has been taught through learned experiences not to trust anyone. Pause here to think about that statement. The student’s behavior is not about the teacher and it is not personal. Instead, the entire experience of the student is validating the belief that nobody can be trusted and everyone is similar to the failed primary attachment caregiver.

Finding a Solution

So, what then is the solution?

The solution, unfortunately, is easy to write and difficult to do, but it can and must be done. The question of what reason does the student have to listen to me must be answered. The teacher must provide the reason that he or she is worthy of the respect that is afforded to someone who is able to direct behavior.

Unconditional Care

The teacher must UNCONDITIONALLY demonstrate care for the student. No matter what, through the most difficult of times, the student must feel the warmth and care from the teacher. This is much deeper than believing that one cares for another. The student must experience that care every day and it can never go away.


The teacher must demonstrate trust at all times. The teacher can never become like every other failed relationship that the student has encountered. He or she must be a steady, unwavering force that is always there for the student through good times and bad. And, be sure, there will be bad times and that is when the teacher must be trusted to not prove themselves to be like everyone else.


Remember that the teacher is in control of the relationship. The teacher is almost never required to do what someone else thinks should be done. Those actions simply lead to the continuation of the cycle which we are trying to break. The teacher builds relational capital which eventually allows for a caring, trusting relationship to be established.

Continual Tests

Remember that the student will continually test this relationship, possibly forever. The test is much more about past failed relationships than it is about current actions. The teacher must never perceive these tests as personal attacks. The student will always provide tests and they must always be answered with unconditional care and trust. No matter what the teacher is committed to the student because nobody else ever has been. The advantage here is that as the teacher, you know these tests are coming. And, you know they’re coming because I’m telling you that they’re coming. I have never worked with a student who did not provide tests. There is one key and that is to anticipate the tests and then know that when they come that you’re reaction will not negatively impact the relationship that you have worked so hard to establish.

Be different

You need to be different because being the same doesn’t work. You can know this is true because your current behavior isn’t working. The only option is to change and be different if you want to have different results. You can not do it like everyone else because everyone else has failed. This will be the most difficult step of this process for many. You are functioning in a system that implies that you should treat certain students in a certain way. There will be pressure and there will be comments and a few sideways glances. Trust me about this too because those glances come my way often. But, as a teacher who cares, you must ask what you are willing to do to be different and positively impact someone’s life. This answer may surprise you and really might lead to more problems in your life because you just might find yourself taking on more work than you anticipated.

Take Comfort

The basic approach is known as relational discipline. Take comfort in this term because if you choose to adopt this approach, others will question you and believe that you are not properly disciplining students. But what is considered to be proper discipline will never work because defiance is not about behavior that all traditional discipline focuses on. Defiant behavior is about attachment, care, and trust and relational discipline is a proven, effective, and difficult way to address such actions. What if you could become that teacher who can teach anyone? Every teacher wants to teach every student. And, every teacher might have the ability to do so if they are able to change their thinking and behaviors.

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