How to Handle a Difficult Student



Every now and then an instructor posts in the ICA Facebook instructor group asking for advice on how to handle a difficult student. The group members respond by supporting the instructor. War stories are shared. Tips are offered. ICA comes to the rescue.


There are plenty of examples of these difficult students:

      • The student who refuses to follow an instruction despite repeated attempts
      • The student doing something dangerous
      • The student “doing his own thing” and ignoring you
      • The talker who won’t stop

These situations are among the most confusing times that an instructor must face, especially those who are new to the role. Sometimes they are even hurtful. What can we do about a difficult student? We all want to be liked and respected. What happens when we feel as if we are not?

I have tried to break down the common elements of these difficult situations so that some kind of general approach might be applied. Here is a tool that I hope might help in most of these difficult student situations: PEACE.


  1. I think “P” is the most important point and don’t consider ignoring the instructor and doing their own thing as being difficult. Usually they have a reason and might still enjoy the class. I make eye contact and smile to let them know that it’s ok and check with them after class.
    I once had a regular participant who did not like sweating. He had a good time, was happy – so I just enjoyed that he made the effort to come to class.
    There are times when I join a class and just need to do endurance training – of course I check with the instructor before if it’s ok for him.

    Doing something dangerous and talking are of course different issues.

    1. Author

      Brigitte. I agree. In fact, I wish I’d made that point a bit more strongly. Talking and dangerous things, yes, are exceptions. But mostly if they aren’t going to hurt themselves or bother anyone else then “let it be.” Instructor ego gets in the way sometimes. The other thing that gets in the way sometimes is the instructors need to make the class “perfect”. I have a follow up to this article in the editing process and it makes the point again. It just doesn’t hurt to ask yourself: “Is there anything about this that can’t wait until after class?” Thanks for contributing.

  2. Thanks Sara. I appreciate that you think it is helpful. We all do face this and it’s good to support each other.

  3. This is so great. Issues I think we all deal with from tome to time

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