I’m a big fan of Captain Awkward, a professor and film director who writes a blog filled with advice about all kinds of relationship issues amongst coworkers, families, friendships, and romantic partners . In a recent response to a letter, she included some great advice on how to handle disruptive students in the classroom. I think its well worth sharing. Check out the entire post (which is more about managing former peers following a workplace promotion), but here is the relevant bit quoted in full:
It’s rare that I have real classroom management issues when I teach, but when I have, what’s worked best with a disruptive student is to address things individually and privately. After class, on the class break, whatever, I pull them aside for a private conversation. It’s a little different than a boss/employee relationship, but there is some overlap, in that the result I want is for the student to be motivated. What works best for me is:
- Ask. “You seem not yourself/distracted/upset today. Is something going on with you that I should know about?”
- Honestly name the behaviors. “You are interrupting me.” “You’re talking over other students.” “You are making sexist comments (about actresses in movie clips, uggggghhhhhhh, the worst).” “Your critiques are mean and not constructive.” “You didn’t do the assignment, and you are hijacking class time to review material you should have already prepared.“
- Make a direct request.“Please write down your questions as they occur to you and save them for the end.” “Please wait to be called on.” “Please keep comments about physical appearance of performers to yourself.” “Please make an appointment to go over things one-on-one during office hours.” “Please set your cell phone to silent, and step outside if you need to make or take a call.”
- Be consistent. Gently remind them if they mess up. “Can you hold your questions until the end of the presentation, thanks! Write them down if you need to.”
- If things get better, remind them of that, too.“I appreciate the way you’ve been speaking up during class discussions, your critiques have really improved.” Also, check in on their overall well-being and point out the things they DO do well, privately and publicly, so it’s not all a rain of negative feedback.
- Refer students who are having problems to appropriate campus resources.
- Document ongoing issues and refer them up the chain.