Building Relationships with the Unlikable Students

Building Relationships with the Unlikable Students

We all have had a student that we would rather be on someone else’s roster. Of course, this child is never absent and shows up 15 minutes before school to come straight to your room. There is something about the connection between you and that child that just does not click. So what can we do as teachers when we are struggling with difficult children in our classroom?


Having structure and routines in place not only help your classroom flow more smoothly, but also allow for you to set boundaries and expectations for more challenging students. When doing this, make sure you incorporate structures that you can follow through with fidelity. If the student sees you waiver with certain students or in certain situations then it will only continue to hurt your efforts in building that positive relationship.

Student Interest

Try finding one thing that each of your students likes or is passionate about. Once you have taken the time to find that passion, use it to build future lessons and strike up conversations that are non academic with students. This will help engage all students and lets them see you took the time to get to know them and then build the learning around their interests. To go the extra mile, if you discover that this particular difficult is involved in extra curricular activities, try to make the time to go watch that student. Not only are you showing the student how important they are, but you are also building that partnership with the parents.


This one has baffled me over the last 8 years in my educational career. Growing up I was always taught to respect adults, period. There was nothing more to it. This is not how this next generation is being raised. From the conversations I have had with students their approach is one of “I will give you respect, if you give me respect” and this applies to all ages. I am not saying one approach is better than another, but each are drastically different and teachers need to be aware of the changing viewpoints.

A teacher should always give students respect, no matter what. That means we never yell, we never put a student down, we never humiliate them, and we cannot have favorites. We are the adult and they are the child. We must always be the bigger person, even if we are having an awful day and just do not have the patience for it. We have to dig deep and find a way to treat all children the same. Every child, no matter how unlikable, deserve to know what it feels like to be valued and to feel respected. The school and classroom may be the only place that child can see respect in any form.


When I say we need to be understanding it does not mean we have to force a conversation with a student to understand why we do not click. It can be hurtful when a student comes to you and says they learn better with another teacher, but we cannot take this personally. When a teacher tries to force an explanation from a student this can actually make the relationship worse. Make it clear to the student that you are there for them if they choose to talk, but let them have their space. We never want the student to grow resentful if we force them to talk before they are ready.


When a child is upset and lashing out, just listen. Do not argue back with them. Understand that their words are coming from a place of hurt and frustration, and not necessarily with you. After all, these are children, we must be the bigger person that offers grace and mercy.

What If…

Even if you follow each one of these pieces of advice, you may still have a student that you just do not like very much and that is okay. As long as you treat that child the same as every other child in your classroom and show them respect. The school year will come to an end and you will most likely get another student the following year that is equally as difficult to like. Just know that those students are probably the ones who need us the most.

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