The following is a memo from the Faculty Senate Chair at Cuyahoga Community College (OH) suggesting ways for faculty members to handle disruptive students.

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In response to several requests by faculty members and observations by students, the Eastern Campus Faculty Senate has been working to make everyone more aware of the need for decorum and control in classrooms and throughout the campus.

Last Fall, several faculty requested that something be done about the immature and sometimes obscene behavior and language from students who frequent the open cafeteria area. In addition, some students themselves began to complain about classes in which instructors did not insist on adult behavior from everyone throughout the class period and seemed, sometimes, not to have control of the class.

After researching the issue, Faculty Senate learned that increasingly immature, and even violent, behavior is a problem nationwide at both two-year and four-year colleges. Although it is not a reality that is peculiar to Tri-C, nor is it a problem that is critical here, the position of Faculty Senate is that college instructors and students have the right to expect nothing less than adult behavior from everyone in the classroom. Immature and disruptive behavior, in fact, tends to discourage better students from attending and impacts the quality of students who do enroll.

Many articles written by college faculty nationwide indicate (1) that college faculty members do not want to discipline their students as if they are the high school crowd and (2) that many college faculty, not having formerly experienced the need to discipline, do not know how. The reality is that we will have to engage in some type of discipline at times. Although most of the rude and disruptive behavior at Eastern Campus seems to involve students in 0900 classes, instructors have, in fact, experienced occasional problem behaviors from students in 1000 and 2000-level classes. In order to encourage each other to maintain adult classrooms that are conducive to quality learning, Faculty Senate and Faculty Development collaborated on two “share sessions” Fall semester in which we discussed the problem and possible solutions with each other. The purpose of this communication is to share with you some of these suggestions as well as those that come from instructors across the country.

The campus administration is aware of the need for Security to help maintain proper behavior throughout the campus, and they have promised their support.  Our duty, as faculty, is to maintain proper behavior in the classroom. For this they have also promised their support, especially when disruptive behavior becomes possible threatening behavior.

Avoiding Problems:

·        Know what the Tri-C student handbook says about student conduct and behavior and refer students to those pages as well as to the sections of your syllabus that deal with behavior and conduct.

·        If food in the classroom or the presence of youngsters accompanying a student has, in the past, presented a problem, begin with your next syllabus to indicate that neither will be allowed.

·        Model the behavior you expect; for example, come to class on time and prepared.

·        Treat students firmly, right from the beginning, but treat them fairly and respectfully.

·        Try to connect with students.  Be sure to know their names. Arrive early to class and stay afterwards to encourage students to talk to you.

·        If it is possible, arrange seating so that you can move among the class; an instructor who seems less distant, even physically, from students will experience fewer behavioral infractions.

·        Do not assume that, because you are dealing with adults, they automatically have social skills or practice them. Spend time during the first week of class discussing just what it means to be a college adult. Talk about respect and courtesy and show respect and courtesy as you discuss these. This discussion can be engaged in along with a simple assessment tool that students fill out.  SAMPLE:

  1. What do you expect from this course?
  2. What do you expect from the instructor?
  3. What do you expect from your classmates?
  4. What will you contribute to your classmates?
  5. What will you do to make this course work for you?

A simple tool such as this can impress upon students their responsibility in making the classroom a meaningful and productive place. The assessment can be updated and administered periodically with questions such as the following:  

  1. What have you gained from the course so far?
  2. Have I met your expectations?  (Be specific.)
  3. Have your classmates met your expectations?
  4. Have your contributions to the class been consistently meaningful and adult?
  5. What will you do to improve the way the course is working for you?

 Solving Problems:

 ·        In the face of conflict with a student, ask yourself if you have done anything to contribute to it.  For example, evaluate your syllabus and assignments to be sure that your expectations are clear.

·        Avoid disciplining while a student’s peers (support group) are around. Take the student to a neutral, private place. Sometimes a note to a student about his or her behavior at the bottom of a returned assignment or test can solve the problem.

·        Always attack the behavior and never the student.

·        Speak with other instructors about possible solutions if disruptive behavior exists.

·        If disruptive students consistently refuse to comply with your classroom regulations, take the matter to the Dean of Student Affairs; if all else fails, consider petitioning the Dean of Student Affairs to withdraw the student(s) from your class. Be sure to document disruptions so that if and when disruptions become persistent, you will have the information you need.  Remember that undocumented disruptions never happened.

–Marge Geiger, English & Faculty Senate Chair, Cuyahoga Community College, OH

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Let me share an experience I had while attending undergraduate studies at California State University, Hayward, California. A student in my Human Development class was angry, flip, aggressive, intimidating and rude to others. One day, the instructor facilitated a fish-bowl exercise.  This is an observation exercise that places half of the students in an inner circle  while the other half is asked to form an outer circle surrounding the students in the inner circle.  The inner circle of students is given an assignment to discuss an event, topic, article, play, etc. while the outer circle’s assignment is to make and record all observations.These observations were to be typed and turned in one week later.

On the day that the reports were due, students began circulating these reports.The student in question read the reports and was horrified to discover that most of the students who were a part of the outer circle wrote negative things about her attitude and behavior.  She was stunned, speechless and devastated, to say the least.  She loved attention but was unaware of how her negative behavior was affecting her classmates.  After reading these reports this student immediately changed her behavior.

–Edith Sorrell, Learning Community Mentor, Baltimore City Community College, MD

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