Buffalo Public Schools are faced with the dilemma of verbally abusive students. Teachers are at their wits end on how to respond to students who use poor communication skills during anger outbursts. Schools can use several techniques to minimize the impact of verbally abusive students.

Black students understand that racism in schools has a long history that does not benefit them or the previous generation. The previous generation plays a major role in how Black students view the educational system. Imagine coming home every day and looking at how your parent is struggling financially due to the lack of education and economic opportunities. This daily remainder can make a Black student resentful of their teacher and the educational system.

Teachers must understand the reasons that Black students may become verbally abusive. Black students use several verbal techniques to discover a teacher’s strengths and weaknesses in order to evaluate a teacher’s racial attitudes and locate teachers’ breaking points to help the students empower themselves in the situation between them and the teacher.

Abrahams and Gay (1972) reported:

If a [Black student] expects to rise to the position of a leader, he must know how to keep his cool. If he cannot respond to a [teachers challenge] without becoming frustrated and unnerved, he is not likely to have the respect of others or remain a leader for long. (p. 205).

Black students have different debating techniques which can lead to a student becoming verbally abusive.  Blacks not only debate the idea; they also debate the person while Whites debate the idea rather than the person debating the idea. “Blacks often probe beyond a given statement to find out where a person is “coming from,” in order to clarify the meaning and value of a particular behavior or attitude. Black students will move a verbal interaction from a global perspective to a personal perspective. This becomes offensive to the teacher and results in continued fueling of the debate which leads the student becoming verbally abusive.

Teachers must not allow debate regarding behaviors to become personal. Instead teacher can prompt all conversations by using praise instead of resorting to an authoritarian position. Praise is an effective reinforcement that provides encouragement to students and is reinforcement for behavior performance improvement (Hughes, 1973; O’Leary & O’Leary, 1977; Rosenshine, 1976). Praise is an effective reinforcement that helps to build student self-esteem (Brophy, 1981) which will eliminate a necessity for a student to become verbally abusive.

Teachers must also minimize the Black students attempt to become and maintain leadership amongst their peers by becoming verbally abusive towards their teacher. Teachers must minimize the impact by low key responses. Most teachers respond to verbally abusive students by becoming abusive themselves. This response sends students two messages. The first message is that they have discovered your pressure point.  They now know how to push your buttons. The have also showed them that anger needs to be responded with anger. It is a terrible example to set for a young person. Finally, you have set an example for other students who are not verbally abusive to follow. In essence, responding to verbally abusive students with anger sets the tone for the culture of the entire school.

Schools and teachers should employ three specific strategies for verbally abusive students. The first is to teach verbally abusive students to control their anger. The second is to place them in a leadership role. Approximately 12% percent of the student population particulates in some sort of leadership role. The other 78% must find alternative strategies to become school leaders which include becoming verbally abusive towards their teachers. The final strategy is to provide students with professional development using the left-handed activity developed by Argyris and Shon.

Related Articles

BPS responds to student verbal abuse problem

Parent group reacts to BPS verbal abuse issue

Student verbal abuse of teachers problematic in BPS

All the best,

Dr. Derrick L. Campbell, Ed.D.
PO Box 4707 Cherry Hill, NJ 08034

Author of:

  • Promoting Positive Racial Teacher Student Classroom Relationships
  • Promoting Positive Racial Teacher Student Classroom Relationships: Methodology
  • The Raccelerate Formula App
  • Treasures of Hidden Racism in Education
  • The Ultimate Guide to Classroom Racism Management


cultural diversity consultant cultural diversity consultant classroom management cultural diversity consultant cultural diversity consultant cultural diversity consultant raccelerate formula

“Dr. Campbell did his part and now all we have to do is run with it.”
 ~ Tom Coleman ~
Woodstown-Pilesgrove Public Schools Superintendent of Schools

“The model that you use to analyze teacher-student relationships is a good one for most school districts”.

~ Joe Vas ~ Perth Amboy Mayor

“Dr. Campbell’s Cultural Relationship Training Program is comprehensive, informative, and should be required training for all schools”

~ Darrell Pope ~ Hutchinson Kansas NAACP President



2 thoughts on “How should teachers respond to verbally abusive students?”

  1. I have been a teacher at predominantly black schools for 20 years and I am in total disagreement with the perspective asserted in this article. The last thing our African-American children need is for teachers and others to indulge their misbehavior and horrible attitudes! The larger world will have absolutely no motive or desire to do so, and this expectation that others should cater to your own personal problems leaves our children essentially “kicked to the curb” in the real world. Let’s be real: now days people largely avoid young black people because of their disrespectful attitudes and manner of communication. Mind you, I am not talking about all black people. On the contrary, when a black person of any age is polite and respectful, the larger community embraces and celebrates them. Black culture has degenerated to a point where we are sabotaging our own selves through rudeness, disrespect, self-centeredness, outright selfishness, and ignorance. African people have been raising children for thousands of years and the first rule of African culture is extreme respect for elders, as well as respect in the manner of communication with everyone. Another cardinal principal of African civilization is caring for and sharing with one’s family — to the point of self-sacrifice — and with one’s entire tribe and people. The current extreme materialism and egotism amongst many African-Americans is the opposite of this, and constitutes the reason why our people are at the bottom of every socio-economic statistic, to the point where millions of us are unemployed and unemployable because of our ignorance, our arrogance, and despicable attitudes, and sleeping on the doggone sidewalks! The Bible states “spare the rod, spoil the child.” Why do you think you know more than God, Him- or Herself!!???

    1. While you may be a seasoned professional, your opposition to this article is found on false premises as well as the lack of knowledge of the students who you are assigned to serve. First the bible states that “ He that spareth his rod hateth his son: but he that loveth him chasteneth him betimes (Proverbs 13:24 – KJV). The key word in this verse is son. The father and son have a relationship that is positive when compared to other relationships. In respect to teaching, if a teacher is expected to follow your original premise than they must also have a positive relationship with their students. Students and teachers who are warm, compassionate, and friendly toward one another in the classroom have the potential to improve instruction and learning. Warm relationships between teachers and students motivate students to meet teachers’ requests for compliance. Teachers and students developing positive interactive relationships can improve many discipline problems.

      Another premise that you stated is “the last thing our African-American children need is for teachers and others to indulge their misbehavior and horrible attitudes!” The sad part is that you have missed the primary focus of education and resorted to enforcing the power over relationship that exist between you and your students. Your power over stance is the primary reason that students become uncooperative with their teachers and other educators. Students who perceive that teachers have favorable feelings toward them have higher achievement levels when teachers have positive views toward them. The major reason that your attempts to reform your students is unsuccessful is because the relationships between you and your students remains unchanged over the past 20 years.

      Your final premise is that the primary principle of the “African civilization” is caring for and sharing with one’s family which include self-sacrifice for the entire tribe and people. It now seems that you moved the conversation from the African American community to the African community. With that in mind, African American parents have learned to protect their children due to the atrocities associated with slavery and the product of the lack of an enhancing education rather than opt for self-sacrifice. Black parents prepare their children to live in a dual cultural world that involves helping them to develop skills for adult roles such as wage earners and parenthood in addition to negotiating a dominant society that has different cultural values and judges’ people by their skin color or ethnic background.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *