Dealing With a Know-It-All
We’ve all had them in our class. They’ve annoyed us, frustrated us and brought out the worst in us. The “know-it-all student” exists in every school and usually ends up in my class every year.
Holly always wanted to correct me. She would challenge me, try to one-up me and found pleasure in finding my mistakes and letting the entire class know. I was teaching a cosmetology class and prepping the students for the state board exam when I mentioned that the heel on a shoe couldn’t exceed a particular height. Holly shouted out that I was wrong and that her new shoes would be just fine to wear. I quickly mouthed back, “You go right ahead and let me know how that works out for you when you have to re-test.” The whole class laughed, but I knew I went over the line the second those words hit my tongue. And I discovered, the only thing worse than a “know-it-all” is a disgruntled know-it-all.
Here’s what I’ve learned about know-it-all students
■ They actually know less. This is a control game for the majority of them. Maybe they’ve had a lifetime of having to prove themselves, but the majority of them simply don’t know as much you might think.
■ They want to be heard. Their main mission is to take over your class and have eyes on them.
■ They can’t take humiliation. These students don’t want you to be sarcastic, joke around with them—especially if they’re the center of your jokes. They are insecure and vulnerable and can’t handle public humiliation.
Here’s how you deal with a know-it-all student
■ Shut them down. Don’t allow them ever to be in control of your class. Many teachers are afraid they’ll be asked a question they don’t know or that the student actually is smarter. This is seldom the case. Nip it from day one and show them that you’re the educator.
■ Never embarrass or humiliate them. You need them to be on your team if you want to make it through the year. Don’t make things worse by making them feel terrible. They’ll hold it against you and make your life even worse. Give them a chance to show that they’re willing to play on your team.
■ Build them up, publicly. If you drop their name in front of everyone, they won’t need to hear their voice. Mention them in a positive way in class. If they’re yelling out answers or saying, “I know, I know,” say, “I know that you know and I’m always impressed that you’re prepared, but let’s give someone else a chance to answer so that I know they prepared as well.”
■ Direct the attention away in a non-threatening way. Your body language should reflect you’re in charge. You can move your shoulders and feet away from them, addressing other students in the classroom without it appearing like a direct snub.
With Holly, I should have had more grace. I should have told her, “I love your shoes and I’m hoping they will meet the standards. Let’s read that chapter again and then get a ruler to measure the heel just to make sure. I’d hate for you to pass every portion of the test but miss the mark over shoes.”
I have found all-star students in know-it-alls. They’re punctual, they study and they want to prove that they are intelligent. If you can get them on your side, you won’t dread these students year after year.
Never underestimate the power of an educator.