How to manage ‘difficult’ students
First tip: There are no difficult students, only difficult behaviors
By Greg Friese
An Everyday EMS Tips reader wrote:
“I'm in Malaysia. Soon we are going to organize a BLS instructor course. I have been asked to speak to educators on ‘How to teach CPR to difficult students.’ Any tips on how should I approach this topic?”
Thanks for the question.
The most important thing to keep in mind (I learned this from my friend Rom Duckworth) is that there are no difficult students. Rather, there are students with difficult behaviors.
I had an EMT student who had been a medical first responder for many years and had run lots of calls. During class he frequently interrupted lectures with stories and answered nearly every question posed to the class. His regular interruptions were disruptive and divided the class into two groups: those who hoped to ride his coattails and those who detested his know-it-all attitude. He was quickly becoming such a “difficult student” that many students demanded I “deal with him.”
Is knowing a lot and being eager to share and confident really the description of a difficult student? In reality this student had a behavior that needed to be modified for others to succeed. It only took a short one-on-one discussion to redirect him toward letting his classmates answer questions and dictate the flow of the lecture. He came to relish the role of “class expert,” being sought out by classmates who needed a study partner or a question answered.
Oftentimes difficult behaviors emerge when students are nervous, unsure or otherwise anxious about the learning environment and course content. To minimize and mitigate difficult student behaviors, the role of the instructor is to:
- Set clear expectations
- Communicate to students performance criteria for success
- Intervene early when a difficult behavior begins to manifest itself
- Redirect the student to an alternative or competing behavior
- Refer students back to class expectations and performance criteria
- Follow school/organization policies for dismissing students with difficult behaviors
Learn more from Rom Duckworth about Difficult Student Behaviors in an episode of the EMSEduCast, the podcast by and for EMS educators.