Confronting Classroom Disruptions


Establishing Clear Expectations for Classroom Behavior:

The best and most effective means for preventing classroom misconduct is to set clear expectations up front.  Include statements in class syllabi and provide a short presentation at the beginning of the semester regarding the desire to maintain a respectful and appropriate learning environment.  Encourage students to express differing opinions with civility and to approach you individually with specific problems.

If you have specific "annoyances" that you hope to avoid, be sure to include these as part of your discussion with the class.  It is important for all faculty and students to have a baseline for understanding what is meant by appropriate classroom behavior.


Advice on How to Deal with Specific Classroom Behaviors :

Large portions of the following information is collected from the following website developed by Lisa Rodrigues, PHD .  You are strongly encouraged to visit her site for more helpful information: 


Undermining the instructor’s authority

This is tricky as it speaks to "attitude." A student might belittle the instructor or engage in a battle of the wills. This student would need to be privately told that their attitude was confrontational and asked how this might be resolved mutually.

"Be careful not to read most questions about content, interpretation, or assignments as a challenge of authority. Acting as if they are not, even when you suspect they are, can convey a sense of confidence and control. Sometimes merely assuring the student, while smiling, that you have indeed reflected on this issue at length and that they too will understand soon why the information or the assignment is valuable diffuses the situation. You may even want to encourage them to ask the question again at a later date if necessary."


Leaving class too frequently

Camps are divided as to whether or not students should ask for permission to leave for bathroom breaks or wait for a break in the class. You might privately ask the student if everything is OK so that they know that you are concerned by their behavior. Don’t assume disrespect – it might be a medical issue of some kind. 


"Spacing Out" or Sitting With Back to Instructor

If this is a repeated problem, students need to know that their non-verbal behavior is perceived as disinterest. You might ask them after class if they need a more comfortable seat. Some students are extremely shy and it might take half of the semester before they open up enough to make sustained eye contact or face the instructor completely. Remember also that sustained eye contact is a culturally dictated practice that might not be feasible for some students.


Gum, Food, Pagers, and Cell Phone Disruption

If decided upon by class, consequences for breaking this policy might range from the loss of participation points to the offender having to present on a topic of interest to the class. Some instructors allow pagers and cells to be on the vibrate setting as long as they are attended to at the break rather than used when it interrupts the class. Instructors need to abide by this rule as well and allow for at least one mistake per student as accidents do happen from oversight. The idea here is to prevent habitual disruption from gum popping and phones ringing.


Monopolizing Discussions

This is common but manageable. Many students are excited and talkative so it might be good to give them a few class periods to settle in. However, if it’s evident right away that this is a trend, it’s best to ask them to stay after class. You might approach them initially by saying that you are pleased with the amount of enthusiasm they have for discussion but were hoping that they have suggestions for getting the other class members equally involved. The student will most likely get your drift with minimal humiliation.


Sleeping in class

Sleeping in class is usually considered rude. Most faculty believe it should not be tolerated and is best curbed up front by waking a sleeping student and asking them to step outside with you. Once there faculty often tell students that it’s best for the rest of the class if they return when they are awake enough to be an active participant. This occurs from time to time and you obviously are the one to choose lenience or punitive action. If it’s one of your more regularly involved students, perhaps give them an option of an extra credit research assignment they can bring to your next class period covering the subject matter they missed while they were sleeping.

An alternative approach is to assume that the student does not feel well, was up most of the night with a sick child, or has some other condition that results in sleepiness when still for long periods of time. You might simply choose to wake the student and ask them if they are feeling alright. To pull this off you need to approach it with true concern for the student's health and well-being. Most of the time, students are so embarrassed and so appreciative of your genuine concern that they don't let it happen again.

Encourage students to actively participate, take notes (explain that this is helpful to their learning as it stimulates memory in the brain) and in particularly long classes break up the session with activities or paired conversations about a topic to ensure that students stay engaged. Students don't learn much from listening, so remember that the more they "experience" the learning process the more you are really teaching.


Repeated Tardiness

There should be clear parameters set around this issue up front – either in your syllabus or in the class decided norms. Stick to your guns on the policy. Some fair policies might include 3 tardies equals one absence.

It might be best to discuss this with students individually; some are habitually late because they are dependent on bus routes or other drivers for transportation to school.


Refusal to Participate or Speak

We cannot force students to speak in class nor participate in group projects. This can be addressed and become a win-win situation by either giving the student alternative options to verbal participation (unless it’s a speech class) or simply carefully coaxing some response out of them and praising whatever minimal effort you receive from them. Remember, some students are terrified to be in a class setting –especially if there are round tables rather than desks – allowing for little anonymity.


Sexual Innuendo, Flirting, or Other Inappropriate Suggestion

This behavior should be curbed as soon as it occurs. It’s never comfortable to tell a student that they aren’t being appropriate and if you are uncomfortable, a short, positive e-mail or phone call might suffice. Your response should be not judgmental and you might discuss it with your department chair or faculty mentor before broaching it with your student.


Too Much Chit Chat

Give 2-minute chat times for groups or before class begins let them know that you have material to be covered and that their talking isn’t helping you achieve your goals for the class. Know too that some students occasionally translate a word or phrase to a tablemate who might not have as strong an understanding of English, be patient and observant when curbing this behavior.

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 Last Modified 11/8/16