Establishing Authority in the Classroom: Learning How to Be Strict With Students With 9 Tips

Classroom management is one of the toughest parts of a teacher’s job. Learning how to be strict with students while still creating a welcoming and warm classroom environment is no easy task.

How to Be Strict With Students — 9 Practices for the Classroom

I know that this is something I definitely struggled with when I first started in the classroom. However, after gaining some experience, confidence, and taking the time to research classroom management techniques, I learned how to achieve the right balance of being strict while also creating that classroom environment where all of my students would feel comfortable to take risks and learn.

In fact, I found that when I established myself as the authority in the classroom and laid out strict classroom rules, my students even performed better.

This ties with what a study published in the International Journal of Education Management in 2016 found: students in countries that place a greater emphasis on classroom discipline perform better academically than students in other countries without such strict classroom rules.

If you’ve been feeling your control slipping away and are worried about the direction your classroom is headed, keep reading! I’ll share some of my best tips to help you:

  • Strike a balance between being strict and kind.
  • Learn tips to help you establish your authority in the classroom.
  • Identify ways to set strict classroom expectation for online classes.

Strict or Kind: What Teacher to Be?

Many teachers see the decision between being a strict teacher or a kind teacher as an either/or. But the reality is that you don’t have to choose between being strict and kind as the two are not mutually exclusive.

It's Always Up to You to Descide

There are benefits associated with being a strict teacher as well as being a kind teacher. Finding a way to merge these benefits will help you deliver the best results for your students.

Some benefits of being a strict teacher include:

  • Motivating students.
  • Helping student achieve their goals.
  • Holding students accountable to high expectations.

Some of the benefits of being a kind teacher include:

  • Showing respect to students.
  • Building relationships with students.
  • Helping students believe in themselves.
  • Giving personal attention to students and celebrating their achievements.

The disconnect lies in the fact that when many people hear the word ‘strict,’ they think mean. But, in reality, a strict teacher is one who lays out clear expectations and holds his or her students accountable.

If You're Not Strict Enough, You May Find That Your Students Take Advantage of You

Students need to come to school knowing that they’ll be held accountable for learning, and without a strict teacher to keep them on track, many can veer off the path of success.

Now, I’m not saying that you want to be a mean teacher and make students fear you. This is certainly not the case. Being strict doesn’t mean you have to stop being nice.

This means you need to be fair and consistent. Nancy Barile, a National Board-Certified Language Arts Teacher in a Boston area urban high school wrote:

“Being fair is extremely important to students, and it will prevent them from becoming angry with you when you issue a consequence.”

Establish proper classroom management routines and holding your students accountable is also important when striking the balance between being strict and nice.

Keep in mind this quote from John Kenny a primary school teacher in Australia:

“Of all the students in a school, those that struggle with their behavior need to know what the rules of engagement are. They need the strict approach”

Kenny’s quote stresses the fact that we need to show our students that we are going to hold them accountable and demonstrate our high expectations for them, so that they will begin to hold these same high expectations for themselves.

If you’re a new classroom teacher, interim teach, or SDC teacher, you may find it even more challenging to develop the right balance of being strict and being kind. If you’re interested in learning more about being an interim teacher, you can read this article, and if you’re interested in learning more about being an SDC teacher, you can check out this article.

9 Tips for Establishing Authority in the Classroom

“Sustaining an environment conducive to learning is an obligation we owe to committed learners.”

This quote from Joseph W Trefzger, PhD illustrates the importance of establishing our authority in the classroom; we need to make sure that our instruction reaches our students.

Use the tips below to help you learn how to be strict with students and establish your authority in the classroom.

1. Establish Classroom Rules and Enforce Them Consistently

Students need to know that the rules are the rules and they apply to everyone. One reason defiant students may be more difficult to handle is that they perceive that they are getting singled out for behaviors that are ignored if they are performed by other students.

Watch the video to find Maya Lee’s 5 ways to handle defiant students in the classroom.

2. Acknowledge Students Who Are Meeting Your Expectations

Rather than calling out students who may not be doing what they are supposed to be doing, focus your positive attention towards students who are meeting your expectations. This can help give students a reminder of what they need to be doing.

3. Work for Student Respect, Not to Be Their Friend

While being ‘friends’ with your students may sound appealing, your goal should be to earn their respect. They are much more likely to focus on instruction and put their best effort into their work if they respect you.

The Main Thing for a Teacher Is Not the Love of Children but Their Respect

4. Being Friendly Is OK, Being Familiar Is Not

This relates to the point above: it is fine to show kindness and act friendly with your students. However, what you don’t want to be too familiar and casual with them.

5. Be Aware of Your Body Language

Your words and actions can do a lot to establish that you are the authority figure in your classroom, but you also need to watch your body language. Students will pick up it you look hesitant or nervous, so work to give off a confident presence.

Your Body Always Shows Your Emotions

6. Stand Firm, but Be Fair

Being firm and showing students that you’re going to stand by what you say is important. However, it is also important to make sure that you aren’t being unreasonable.

7. Move Around the Classroom

Rather than teaching from one position, move around. This can help students focus on what you are saying, show students that they shouldn’t try to pass notes or engage in off-task behavior because you’ll be close by, and help you manage loud students by using proximity to encourage them to lower their voices and get back on track with the lesson.

In this video, Maya Lee shares a few effective teaching strategies that have helped me handle my loud students.

8. Give Rewards and Take Privileges

One way to demonstrate your authority is to give positive rewards or privileges to students who are acting appropriately and trying their best. On the other hand, you can also show your authority by taking away privileges from those students who are not meeting your expectations.

9. Pick Your Battles

Finally, remember that it is important to pick which battles are worth ‘fighting.’ Kids will be kids, and some things are probably better overlooked for the good of the classroom as a whole and your relationship with a particular student. Try not to micromanage every aspect of your students’ day.

You Are Here Not To Prove Something, but to Give Knowledge

How to Maintain Strict Classroom Guidelines in Online Classes

Being a strict teacher and maintaining control of an online class can seem even more daunting than doing so in the classroom. However, it is certainly possible to be strict and keep control of an online group of students.

Maintaining Discipline Online Is Often More Difficult

Here are some tips that I’ve discovered through research and my personal experience with online teaching that may help you:

  • Sound check: Before starting your online class, verify that your microphone is functioning properly. You don’t want to start your class only to discover that you’re having technical difficulties, as this can cause the class to go off the rails before it even begins.
  • Set expectations: Find a quiet and professional area in your home to teach your class from. Set the expectation that students should remain as professional as possible. While it may not be feasible for them to isolate from others in their household, encourage them to sit up at a chair, rather than laying down during class.
  • Create class rules for using the chat box: The chat box can be a very useful feature when used correctly since it allows students to share questions or concerns they may have. But, be sure to set rules about when it can be used and the different acceptable uses for it.
  • Set clear deadlines and hold students accountable: When students are working remotely, it is easier to say “I’ll get to that assignment later.” Don’t let this happen; be clear and firm about when assignments are due and need to be submitted by.
  • Be respectful: Create a classroom climate where you respect each student and they are expected to show the same level of respect to you and the other students in the class.

Useful Resources

Final Thoughts on Establishing Authority in the Classroom

Learning how to be strict with students while still maintaining a positive classroom environment can be challenging. However, it is so essential in setting expectations and helping students achieve.

Establishing authority and making sure your students know the expectations can also be beneficial when you have visitors or guest teachers in your classroom. If you’d like to learn more about what a guest teacher is and how inviting one into your classroom could benefit your students, you can read this article.

Simona Johnes
  1. One of the tips you listed was to acknowledge students who are doing what they’re supposed to be doing. Do you have any specific methods you have used for this?

    • There are many different ways you can focus in on the positive behaviors your students are displaying. The simplest is just to give them verbal praise and point out the specific behavior they are doing well. You can also set up a classroom store and pass out “dollars” to each student that is meeting expectations that they can spend at the end of the week/month.

    • An example would be, ‘great! I can see Lewis has got the date and title down… and Lucy… and Liam… great, now I can see everyone is following that instruction. Once finished, put your pens down and face me so I can see we are ready to start. Great… that looks very neat Lian and I can see you have underlined the title as requested.. etc. If waiting for a class for silence and still have taking start thanking the students who are listening and following instructions… more effective than reprimanding I find.


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