How to Survive a Hostile Classroom Environment: Coping with High Risk Students

substitute teachers

Surviving a hostile classroom can present a momentous challenge to educators, especially for new teachers. Hostility can occur suddenly and without warning. Unprepared teachers may find themselves surrounded by unmotivated, unruly and disrespectful students. Such situations can happen at any time of the year. However, teachers must be trained to cope with these intense moments. A few carefully chosen steps can help you survive the onslaught of angry high-risk students.

Things You’ll Need

Backup plans

Take charge of your feelings and remain calm when you are confronted with a hostile classroom. Don’t react. The wrong thing to do is to start yelling, screaming and threatening students. This will only give them a sense that you have lost control. Sometimes a classroom will become increasingly uncontrollable when the teacher has lost his cool, resulting in total chaos.

Stand still and observe the situation with poise and confidence. Look for the students who are not participating in the  chaos These nonparticipants can act as your mental source of stability. Attempt to express concern regarding the situation. You can say something like: “I know you’re disappointed class. I am also, but we can resolve this situation together.” Let them know that the problem can be solved only when they calm down.

Try to understand why these students are so angry. Make sure that you have not directly contributed to the hostility by being insensitive to certain concerns that students may have presented to you. Students have feelings. When something is happening in the classroom that the teacher is ignoring, some students may become hostile because they are not being heard.

Seek common ground. Many times intense stress situations in high-risk classrooms happen because of differing objectives. Some students may want to work on a particular project while the other may not. Some students may think you are showing favor toward the ideas of another group while neglecting their ideas. Obtaining common ground provides the opportunity to discuss and resolve the hostile situation.

Resolve the problem through a heartfelt classroom discussion. Review and create new rules if necessary in order to prevent the hostile situation from occurring again. Thoroughly examine routines and habits that may have contributed to the problem. You may have to change the lesson plans, teaching style as well as the way you engage with the students in general. You may have to become more sensitive and understanding.


For all classroom teachers, the bottom line is to strive to create community within the classroom. You may have to make the idea of community a weekly classroom theme. High-risk classrooms will most likely need constant repetition of ideas in order to internalize a message. As much as possible, the sense of classroom community must become a habit for every high-risk student. In addition, you must devise interesting lesson plans as well as backup plans in case of other classroom emergencies.


Sometimes a teacher’s effort to calm a hostile classroom requires help. Don’t get injured trying to calm a classroom in which the situation has become threatening. Seek and call for the help of other teachers or the administrative office. When high-risk students are aggressively attempting to bully and frighten you, whether they are standing in your face or throwing pencils and books at you, you must seek immediate help. In some instances, you must call the police, especially if you have been assaulted.