"I do not argue with children."
I have seen a few sweet teachers over the years in different schools trying desperately to regain control of their classroom by attempting to reason with their students. They believe by continuing to have a conversation with their students when there is a behavior issue that they will demonstrate to their students that they are, indeed, the wise adult in the room. And they fully expect to walk away from the conversation in agreement with the student that the teacher is in complete control of the room and everything else is daisies and roses.
They probably expect the child to feel badly and maybe even apologize later.
I'm sure they weren't expecting their troublesome student to come back with a comment and more than ready to start an argument with the teacher.
And sometimes the student's opinion is a whole lot more convincing to the class.
And then, the sweet, sweet teacher, has lost complete control of her classroom because she's allowed herself to be pulled into an argument with a child. She's going to get frustrated and embarrassed and mad. She might say things she doesn't mean to say. She might lose her cool in front of the class. And the children do not have to correct their behavior because they have managed to talk themselves out of punishment.
She'd be better off trying to reason with a cat.
These children have been taught that it's ok to speak to adults like equals. They have learned that the person who yells the loudest is the winner (or at least the one most people will hear). They are always going to seek to have the last word and/or the best comeback. Sometimes they also attempt to manipulate with tears and whining. They may also huff and puff and look all pitiful/angry, but they are not going to be ready to back down in front of all of their friends.
So, when confronted with these children, I would suggest taking the following steps:
1. State the issue and what you want the kids to (not) do: "Sam, please stop pulling Suzie's hair." Continue with instruction immediately. Do not wait for a response, do not ask him if he heard you, and do not give him any more of your attention.
2. When Sam starts to fuss about it not being fair, that it's Suzie's fault because her hair was so beautiful, or that teachers are always picking on him for everything, ignore him and continue with instruction.
If he stops, congratulations, you have diffused this situation and regained your classroom.
If he doesn't:
3. In your calmest voice (without emotion), simply say to sweet little Sam, "Sam, I do not argue with children. I asked you to stop pulling Suzie's hair, and that is what I expect you to do." And then immediately continue with instruction. Children like Sam have become conditioned to argue and shout their way out of a situation and will often find themselves stunned into silence when you refuse to play. He won't be able to say a word in defense and look smart in front of his peers, and he knows that you have drawn the line.
Most of the time, he's going to stop at this point. And if he doesn't, then you will need to take the next steps in regards to continual class disruptions (move seat, time out, marking on behavior log, etc). But Sam will learn that you have decided to take control of the room, and most likely he's not going to try to argue with you again.
Always remember: you are the adult.
And sometimes you are going to be the only one who will demonstrate what that should look like.
Love and smooches,
Mrs. Mama A.