Surviving difficult teaching situations


Difficult teaching situations can arise for all educators, regardless of level of experience. Sometimes they can be a result of something that has happened in the class, and sometimes as a result of something else entirely. Often, difficult teaching situations arise as a result of a number of factors.

These tips can be helpful for surviving those situations:

  • Remember you are in your role as a tutor/lecturer because of your knowledge and experience and that is why you are the tutor/lecturer and the student is not.
  • Keep calm in all difficult situations.
  • Try not to take things personally.
  • Start as you mean to go on.
  • Remember you do not just communicate by words but by the tone, pitch and pace of your voice, your body language, facial expression and overall appearance. Therefore, believe in yourself, and in what you say to students and then you will come over with authority and confidence.
  • View problems as challenges and a way of acquiring and developing your skills in dealing with difficult situations.
  • Talk things over with a trusted colleague; two heads are better than one.
  • Once you have made a decision, implement it and do not keep churning it over in your head.
  • Do not go in for ‘snowball thinking’ where you keep going over things and make yourself feel increasingly demotivated or depressed.
  • Whilst to an extent students are our ‘customers’, the University is certainly not a retail operation where ‘the customer is always right’.
  • You cannot please all the people all of the time, nor would you want to.
  • Do not be pressurised into making a decision, if you are not sure about what to do tell the student that you will consider the issue and come back to them.
  • Do not reward undesired behaviour, where appropriate ignore it and if you challenge it follow through.
  • Don’t let perfection be the enemy of the good.

Remember you are a human being, and you have a right to:

  • Make mistakes and learn from them.
  • Set your own priorities within the University deadlines.
  • Have time to support and receive support from your colleagues.
  • Relax and enjoy a coffee break or lunch with a colleague.
  • Have a life outside of work.
  • Give and receive courteous behaviour from colleagues and students.


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