What to Do When a Student Refuses to Work

In school, there will always be some kids that refuse to do work from time to time. They may just shut down and not pay attention or get angry if they do have to work. Every student reacts differently in this situation, but it is a common situation that teachers have to deal with.

Why Do Kids Refuse to Do Work?

While all kids are different, there is always a reason behind them not wanting to do work. However, often times it is impossible for the teacher to know exactly what is going on if the student will not explain. It could be related to something that happened at home or outside of school. Sometimes, if bad situations are happening in their lives, then they get frustrated about not being able to control it, so they decide to control other things in their lives, such as not doing work. Also, some kids might have oppositional defiant disorder, meaning that they may have persistent irritability and defiance, regardless of what’s going on around them. Either way, it is very rarely just because they want to cause trouble or make a scene.

What Not to Do

When a child refuses to do what they’re told it is easy to get frustrated and want to yell at them, but it is important not to immediately punish them or send them out of the room. If you do, the child will likely only get more upset and nothing will be resolved. Most students aren’t going out of their way to give you a hard time, but instead, they are likely just reacting to some other type of event. Therefore, don’t embarrass the student in front of the class or assume things about them. Acting in these ways will likely only stress out that student more.

What You Should Do

Even if one student is refusing to listen, just keep teaching and if you feel it’s needed, talk to them about it later. Oftentimes, a student will not want to discuss issues in front of the class, but if a teacher meets up with them one-on-one to talk, they will feel more comfortable sharing their feelings. You should try to be more personal with them and let them know that you are someone they can trust. If they are continually not listening, don’t just yell out harsh punishments to them, but instead talk to them about the consequences of their behaviors before you actually have to act on them. This may be able to help the student come forward about what’s going on to avoid future punishments.


Just because a child doesn’t want to do their work doesn’t always mean that they want to cause trouble or make a scene. Sometimes kids just need someone to talk to them to find out the root of the problem instead of just giving out punishments every time something goes wrong. Keep this in mind next time there is a kid in class that is refusing to do their work.

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