My Students Don’t Listen To Me

I have a feeling that every teacher feels this way at some point in their career. Here’s the thing – it doesn’t mean that you suck at what you do. That tendency to rebel and test boundaries – it’s just something so innate, particularly if you’re working with younger ones. It doesn’t always make sense (you’re trying to help them improve after all), but neither do most things that come instinctively. Here are some of the most common reasons I’ve found to be the case when your students just won’t listen, and what you can do about it instead of allowing your frustration to get the best of you.

  • Your student wants to test things out for themselves. Just to see what happens.

I’ve found this one to be the most common. Chances are you have a strong-willed character here who prefers to learn from discovering things themselves, rather than being told what to do. Let’s be honest, we ALL learn best from experience. Rather than getting annoyed by the rebellion, recognise this passion as something truly valuable – once channelled towards achieving the goals at hand and improving their craft, this student will be going places. That agility that accompanies the tendency to experiment with lots of different options shows that they have a good sprinkling of creativity in their bones too.

What you can do:

ALLOW them to see what happens when they do the opposite of what you’ve just said. In fact, encourage it. When it comes to students with this kind of burgeoning curiosity, the best thing to do is often to allow them to try things out and see what they make of the result. I’ve found that leading questions often help – keep these questions focused on their goals. More often than not, they will discover for themselves that everything you’ve been telling them to do does work, and you end up winning their respect AND they improve at their craft. Win win!

  • Your student doesn’t understand what’s going on.

This one is usually due to ineffective communication. Set the scene by encouraging your student to ask questions if they’re unsure about anything at all. This can be more of a challenge than you’d expect for some, and when they do ask questions, answer their questions constructively and keep it to the point. When you and your student have reached a point where you find yourself having to repeat the same thing over and over and your student still doesn’t seem to get it, there’s almost always an underlying problem. It’s likely that they weren’t clear on something a long time ago and it’s just added up over time, or they just don’t understand what you mean.

What you can do:

Take a breather to avoid getting caught up in the struggle of getting it “right”. Backtrack step by step, and ask them lots of questions to get a clear picture of where their knowledge falters. Focus on unravelling those tangles together and always get them to talk you through a summary of what they’ve learned at every stage – it helps them consolidate their learning and gives you an indicator of how they learn too.

  • Your student just can’t see how your advice will help them get from A to B.

This is one of those instances where “Just because.” won’t help anyone. The more inquisitive your student, the more they’ll be asking you “why” when you tell them how to do things. One of those instances where demonstration helps too – if they can see it in action, they’ll be more inclined to try it for themselves and do it willingly.

What you can do:

Always support your instruction with a logical explanation, and give them perspective of how all the small things fit into the bigger picture of achieving an overarching goal. When they hit you with the “why” and “how does that work” questions, answer them all calmly and logically. Always link back to the bigger picture. Avoid letting your temper take over and brushing them off with “Just do it.”

  • Your student is just plain bored.

This is a tricky one. Again, communication is key – you’ll need to work out what they’re finding tedious. Are they losing interest because of a particularly tricky obstacle they just can’t get past? Do they have something else on their mind that doesn’t concern the lesson? Don’t be afraid to probe them, and take note of their responses as well as what their body language says.

What you can do:

Always invite them to share what’s on their mind. Respond honestly and constructively, and tackle small issues first. It may just be a case of not having grasped many things along the way and suddenly they find themselves unable to solve a more advanced problem, and they’re just feeling ready to give up. Sometimes, it may just be because they’re tired of hearing you repeat the same thing over and over. If this is the case – avoid getting into a rut of repeating yourself. Make it clear that you mean what you say and that you expect to be listened to the first time round. Always make it about helping the student achieve their goals.

  • Your student doesn’t respect you.

Usually a more extreme one – though I can’t say that I’ve experienced this myself so far (at least I don’t think so)! You need an honest conversation with your student ASAP. If they are younger, perhaps involving their parent or guardian may help but if possible, sort it out between the two of you first.

What you can do:

Avoid placing blame on the student when having this conversation. It’s not an easy one to have by any means and you may get some personal attacks, accusations and whatnot. Resist the temptation to bite back with your grievances, but stand your ground. Keep it professional and always keep it about the student’s goals. Sometimes, the student may want things that you just can’t give them, and the personality clash is just all a bit too much. Know when it’s time to walk away (better sooner than later).

And that’s it! If you’re a teacher yourself – what do you teach, and have you had experiences with any of the above? If you’re a student, do you remember feeling this way during your learning and how did you and your teacher deal with it? I’d love to hear your stories! You go girl.

– J

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Disclaimer: All images used in this post were obtained from Pixabay. The featured image was designed on, exclusively for thenellybean.

12 Comments on “My Students Don’t Listen To Me”

  1. This is a brilliant post! I resonate with it fully both in my role as a Mum, and in my previous role as a boss. You have hit the nail on the head. I hope you also realise and understand, that just the fact that you have recognised and wrote this post makes you an amazing teacher! I am defo a typical example of your first scenario. I have to test it for myself. I have to absorb and work it out. I love that you have given examples of how to overcome each pupils hurdle too. Im going to save this post t use with my kids and in my job. Fabulous my lovely xx

  2. I was talking to my friend just last night – she’s a teacher, and I was telling her that teaching is one profession I’d never get into. Firstly, i’m impatient – I wouldn’t be able to take all that drama from students. I truly commend teachers, you guys deal with so much and bring out the best in these students. You instil confidence in them. Haha – keep it up ’cause we need you all!!

  3. I was talking to my friend just last night about how teaching has it’s people. I for one, am not. I commend teachers for all they do – it takes a level of patience to teach and make sure students abide by rules and understand everything they learn. AND make sure they don’t kill themselves by accident in the chemistry labs. Lol .

  4. Great post. People learn differently reading, hand-ons and recognizing it. Communication key. I have found if they don’t understand it try explaining it in different words, visuals as maybe even a cultural barrier is happening.

  5. First of all, replace students with “my kids” and you basically have a post about parenting.
    I taught in a classroom for a year and discovered I was better suited to private voice and music coaching, which I still do. One of my favorite things about private teaching is that I can focus on each of my students individually, and adjust my teaching to address their specific needs better. For example I had two students who were the same age but had almost completely opposite strengths and weaknesses. One had that natural ear and excellent tone, but she struggled with music reading, and physical breath control and posture and utilizing her entire body to sing. The other had a weaker ear but a great affinity to music theory and sight reading, and as a dancer, had an amazing awareness of her own body so breathing and utilizing her entire body to sing came naturally to her. It was a great challenge to me as a teacher to instruct both of them, in back to back lessons no less. I learned a lot through teaching them.

    1. That’s incredible, what a challenge to have to switch between two different mindsets so quickly too! I prefer private teaching for the same reasons, it just allows you to devote 100% of the lesson to coaching the student’s individual needs unlike having to follow a blanket syllabus in a classroom. Thanks for commenting! xx

Comments and stories welcome!