I recently had a severely clogged drain at my house. My plumber, Carl, came over and quickly fixed the problem. He is amazing. Carl can literally fix any plumbing problem you can possibly imagine. When finished we spent a few minutes talking about life. He has a few children of his own, one of which is pretty challenging. Lucky for me I am able to trade my consulting services for his plumbing expertise. Anyway, Carl opened the back of his van and I was shocked at the amount of tools hanging from the peg board on the walls. There must have been 100 different tools. He said, “Yeah Bri, I have every tool imaginable. I generally use the same five or six on every job, but I have them all just in case”

I think the best teachers are like the best plumbers. They carry every single tool just in case Welcome to the best oppositional tool out there, Challenge.

Almost everyone likes a challenge as long as it can actually be accomplished. If the ability to succeed is not there (challenge a blind person to read the board and all you do is piss him off), challenge will only lead to annoyance and frustration. So this strategy comes with a stern warning. It only works if what I am challenging the student to do he really can accomplish. It is important to remember the nature of oppositional students. Most argue and disagree just for the purpose of arguing and disagreeing. When challenging a student I send the message that I do not believe he has the ability to succeed, even though I know he really does. Here is an example of how to use challenge to get a student to do his homework. Say this to the entire class:

“Ok guys. Tonight for homework you have to write an entire essay. I will see the complete essay tomorrow. Have a great night.” Then pull the oppositional student aside and say this. “Did you hear what I said to the entire class? Unfortunately, I have absolutely no doubt in my mind that you will not turn an essay in to me tomorrow. In fact, the only way to surprise me is to have your homework (or at least some of it) done tomorrow. I guess we will see if you can do it, won’t we?”

I am not saying this approach always works. However, because the student is oppositional he will often do the right thing just to prove you wrong. If he does not complete the homework he proves the teacher correct. For oppositional kids proving a teacher correct is often the worst thing they can do. This strategy is not often used because it is not what we learn to do in teacher school. In fact, we generally learn the opposite. Always encourage kids, be nice to them, pump them up! The problem is that does not usually work for truly oppositional kids.

Adopt these “Challenge” phrases for more success with oppositional students:

  1. Yesterday you did 3 problems. That’s pretty good. I am not so sure you can do all 5 tonight though. I guess we will see.
  2. Great job with your reading homework. But I do not think there is any chance you will complete it two nights in a row! We will see tomorrow!
  3. I know you behaved today but who can’t behave for one day? I would be much more impressed if you acted the same way tomorrow. I am not sure you have it in you. Good luck!
  4. You see the big hand on the clock? There is no way you can sit still in your seat until it hits number (fill in the blank). I guess we will see won’t we?
  5. I guess I am proud you behaved on the field trip. But I am not so sure you can behave that way in class tomorrow. I guess we will see.

Be sure to read my book The Taming of the Crew for more on challenge. Also, “like” the Teacher Learning Center on Facebook for more great teaching strategies and ideas.