Harry Wong
Jan 2017
Vol 14 No 1

When a Student Demands Attention – Advice for Substitutes

By Barbara Pressman

How should I handle a student who demands my attention?

Dear Barbara,

Last week I subbed in a fifth grade classroom with one young man who was sooo needy! I found myself neglecting others because I had to spend so much time with Zachary. After a while, it was obvious that he was manipulating me. What should I do when this situation happens in the future?

St. Louis, MO

Dear Pamela,

We’re all familiar with students like Zachary. There are countless reasons that students demonstrate manipulative behavior. Here are a few:

1. Problems at home will cause a child to be needy. When the parents are too strict and expect too much, children cling to a kind, understanding teacher.

2. Students who are “picked on” by their peers become dependent upon the teacher for attention and sometimes protection.

3. When the academics become too difficult, a student may panic for fear of failure.

4. Social immaturity is often a cause. There are some children and adults who simply lack social skills.

How can you gently change needy behavior? Remember, you must not overtly reject this student, or he/she may become even more needy. Be sure to spend some time with the student during down time. Enter into a conversation and show interest. Then, when you must focus on the rest of the class, remind him/ her that we spoke earlier, but now you need to help Alexis. Thank him for his understanding. You may never satisfy Zach, but you can manage him.


Barbara is the author of book

Substitute Teaching from A to Z (McGraw-Hill, 2008), available in all major bookstores and To find out more, visit:



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This entry was posted on Monday, November 1st, 2010 and is filed under *ISSUES, Barbara Pressman, November 2010. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.
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