“That’s not fair!” “But you said!” “Are you sure?” “How come we have to do that?” It’s clear from reactions like these that many students are used to arguing with the authority figures in their lives. From howls of protest when we make unpopular decisions to endless debates about possible answers on a test, many students are accustomed to getting their own way if they nag loudly enough to wear out their exhausted teachers.
Teachers spend their days bombarded by a steady stream of requests from students who want to go to the restroom, the office, a locker, the clinic, or to call home, open a window, shut a window, sharpen pencils, and hear the directions just one more time. Fielding these entreaties tactfully requires that we make quick decisions not only about whether the request is a sound one, but also how our response will affect the entire class as well as the student making it.
As a new school year begins, you just may want to arm yourself with some respectful ways to say "no" so that your students are not only aware that you mean business, but are still on their side. After all, one of the most useful skills that a teacher can develop is the ability to refuse a student’s request without causing offense. Although it may seem impossible, this is not as difficult as it appears. Instead of abruptly refusing, try one of the statements or questions below. Each one is designed to deny a student request in a pleasant, non-confrontational way that preserves the student’s dignity.
- Let me think about that for a little while.
- Let’s talk about that after class.
- Let’s finish this first.
- I don’t think this is really necessary at this time.
- I don’t think that is the best decision because…
- Are you sure that’s a wise choice?
- What do you think?
- Could you give me a moment?
- Can this wait?
- What are the pros and cons involved in your request?
- How are you planning to do that?
- How will you accomplish that?
- Can you tell me what that would not work?
- Would you ask me again in a moment?
- Have you finished your assignment?
- How will that help you achieve your goal?
- Who else have you asked about this?
- Are you sure that’s wise?
- Why don’t you give that some more thought?
- Why are you asking?