Dealing with disrespect in the classroom

One of my clearest memories from middle school is the time that my class made our teacher break down and sob on her desk. She was a new teacher who seemed passionate and kind, and the increasingly vocal disrespect and general meanness from the class culminated in her total loss of control of the classroom and herself.  The principal came in and give us a severe talking to, but we never regained respect for our teacher.

Part way through my second semester I’m thinking a lot about how I can improve as a teacher. As I’ve mentioned, my research-focused training didn’t prepare me for a teaching-focused career. One thing that I’ve come to realize is that I don’t have complete control of my classrooms.  I’ve never been anywhere near a breakdown, but I certainly have times when I’ve felt uncomfortable in front of my classes. I was a shy introvert growing up, too nervous to ask questions in classes or go to office hours. The worst days of my life were when I had to give presentations.  What is teaching a class but 15 weeks of presentations?

Some of my discomfort comes from being new and struggling to keep up.  I’m only staying days or hours ahead of the students while prepping three new classes.  As a result things aren’t as organized as they should be and I don’t feel like as much as an expert as I need to be on some topics. I’ve focused more or organization and activity planning this semester, since many of the moments I felt myself losing control of the classroom were when I was flying by the seat of my pants.  However, I can’t help but think that my gender and age (younger than some students) aren’t winning me any points. I’m trying to dress for success and stay poised, but it’s not always easy.  Plenty of anecdotes and studies have shown that young women professors are the most likely to experience disrespect.

I really like most of the students I’ve had so far. They are eager to learn and are genuine people who have worked hard for what they’ve achieved.  However, just because I like them as people doesn’t mean I always appreciate having them in my class. There are always going to be the minor issues: students that sleep or play on their phones, or students that expect their recreational lives to come first. These mild annoyances seem part and parcel of teaching a diverse group of people.

The ones I’m more worried about heading off are the more aggressive challenges to my authority.  One of the students who was one of the most fun to have my classes last semester, a dude, also made a habit of loudly making funny-but-not-funny comments about hating assignments. Another, a woman, would make smartass disrespectful comments in sotto voice. And currently there is a woman who takes over and derails class discussions, and has aggressively challenged me in front of the class.

I don’t have an intuition about what to do in those situations where a student is directly challenging my authority, and when I’m in the moment I get flustered and defensive.  The more I read about teaching the more I feel like I need to choose between being fun-engaging-pushover teacher or bitchy-respected teacher, when I really want to be fun-engaging-respected teacher.

I’ve read a lot of advice at some great sites, including blog posts and forums on the topic. It’s a lot to keep track of, and I can’t (at least immediately) change some things about myself, but I’m trying to incorporate some of the most common pieces of advice into my daily teaching to help me feel more confident about my control of the classroom.

  • The first: Don’t argue.  Arguing gives too much power to the student and makes you seem weak. Of course, the line between arguing and explaining why a student’s perceptions are wrong can be a fine one, and come down to attitude more than anything else.  This links into the next commonly given piece of advice:
  • Don’t lose your cool.  This can be hard when students are acting out in particularly frustrating ways. But time and time again effective teachers advise “You have ACT like there is no emotional response. An emotional response rewards the students who are acting out”.
  • Express empathy.  Acknowledge that students are people with real problems. Don’t belittle them, and they will be more likely to respect you.
  • Explain why you are asking students to do things. This includes doing a good job of linking specific topics and exercises back to course learning objectives, so the students feel like progress is being made.  I think that some of the decisions I’ve made in how to design assignments, tests, and papers, would have been met more positively if I’d explained (not defensively, of course) why I developed them in that way. For example, I designed a lab where all I provided the class was the primary question and a set of possible methods. I left it up to students to select the sources, specific subjects, methods, and analyses. They were frustrated at not being told what to do and how to get a good grade – and in retrospect I should have made it clear that the experience was about the process and learning to think like an researcher, rather than the final product.  Next time I plan to both provide a bit more guidance and explain why the lack of structure is an important way to learn new skills.
  • Don’t ignore problems.  Don’t hope that disruptive behavior, inattentive students, or classroom disrespect will just go away.  It almost never does and needs to be addressed head on. If not addressed you will be perceived as weak and ineffective and students will learn less as a result.
  •  Don’t single out and shame the students who are misbehaving in front of the class.  This can actually turn the entire class against you – even if the misbehaving students had been annoying everyone, the rest of the class will start to feel sympathy with and ‘side’ with them if you make a scene in class.  However, many discussions of how to deal with misbehaving students have somewhat contradictory views on this; some do suggest calling students out, including asking them to leave the class, in certain situations.  Nonetheless, most people agree that the first line of defense should be talking to disruptive students one-on-one.
  • And lastly, Don’t take it personally.  This is one of the most difficult ones for me, but chances are, troublemakers aren’t singling you out. Students like to test boundaries, and some will do so with every professor.  I found out that my most irritating student this semester has the same disruptive, annoying behaviors in every class – but how the class as a whole goes depends on how the professor responds.

I expect that as time goes on I’ll develop an effective toolkit to deal with all types of problems in the classroom. In the interim I’ve been asking for help and advice with my most significant problems, and I’m lucky that my Chair/Mentor has been very supportive and helpful.  And here I’m asking all of you –  how do you deal with disruptive and/or disrespectful students?


32 thoughts on “Dealing with disrespect in the classroom

  1. Oh yeah, I understand this completely. One thing I found out I needed to do was quit being flowery in my language. I switched to a simple “yes” or “no” to questions regarding things not related to curriculum, and it sent the message that it was non-negotiable. I think women tend to want to “cushion” their comments for fear of offense. I’ve gotten more terse as the years have passed, and in doing so I find it helps. I’ve even tapped into my mother-side by saying, “I’m sorry my answer wasn’t the one you wanted, but it is my answer nonetheless.” Then again, I deal with high schoolers who alternate between wanting to be an adult and wanting to be babied. I imagine many college students may be similar.

    Good luck finding that balance. I’d love to say there was a magic bullet for it, but everyone’s solution is different.

  2. Since I’m an introvert, I find that my personality is easily the bitchy, ice-cold, yet respected instructor to the students initially, and mostly in class. If a student approaches me one-on-one though, I am much more bubbly, and easy to connect with. Additionally, as the semester/quarter continues, I do make small talk, some jokes, etc. with the students to make the space less frigid.

    This approach was created because my first observation of a classroom, and first experience as a helper (first grade summer school) were inner city areas, and respect is earned. If you came in bubbly, and friendly, they’d pounce on you like a hungry lion. You’d be done for. *Side note, the first graders have an astonishingly high amount of similarity to freshmen students in college; tantrums, pushing boundaries, wanting to learn, etc.*

    The best advice I can give is that the initial contact you have with your students, and how you structure your classroom will reflect the respect you get through the semester. For example, my first quarter as a TA I had not explicitly written out instructions on re-grading, and would have students arguing for fractions of points. I’d end up giving back points that I didn’t think they had earned. I had a great professor in college that required us to write a paragraph on why we thought we should get a higher grade, and submit that paragraph with the original work for an entire re-grade. This meant that we could get a lower grade overall, but it also reduced the number of re-grades, and any face-to-face arguments that you might regret later. I adopted this policy, and had no problems later on.

    I also totally agree with you that students have to understand why you are doing things. We’d call this contexting, and is a major part of inquiry-based lessons. This might be a great thing to try before you have your next discussion. Lay out the ground rules (context the discussion) that if someone goes off topic, any of the students can call it out, and how to respectfully call it out. Examples of how to or how not to might be helpful.

  3. Explaining everything is huge for me. Especially when I’m making the students do non-traditional things, I make a point of linking the activities to learning objectives, or explaining how these exercises will make exams easier, or explaining that out in the real world, this is the way that scientific problems are addressed. I also make sure to acknowledge the disadvantage of doing things my way (e.g., “I know that it is more challenging to have to come up with your own method, but this will allow you to learn to troubleshoot your own work, and when I grade this assignment, I will be less concerned by the answer that you give me than by your understanding of the scientific method…”). I have therefore clearly considered the challenges and, by acknowledging and dismissing them, made it harder for students to argue that they have a better solution to the problem. I also make it clear what I am evaluating in these situations, which makes students less anxious as well. In general, by making my teaching more transparent, I make the students feel more adult and, if not in control, at least appreciated. In return they usually hold up their end of our tacit contract and complete their work without giving me too much flak.

  4. One strategy I’ve found useful for dealing with students who make under-the-breath comments or have side conversations going on in class: I’ll stop and ask “Is there a question back there?” in an authoritative voice. Sometimes there is, and that’s why the side conversation is going on. Otherwise, this generally mortifies the student enough that they stop the behavior. This way you are calling out the behavior without calling out the student, allowing the student to save face while still putting them on notice that you are aware of what’s going on.

    I also want to second (third?) the comments about explaining why you’re doing what you’re doing, and favoring transparency in general. I’ve found that students respond very well, and are way more comfortable, if they know what to expect and if they know what *you* expect from them. Letting them know why we’re doing a certain class activity—how it fits into the learning goals of the course, why pedagogically it’s valuable—gives them a bit more ownership over their learning. Knowing what you value when you evaluate their work helps them figure out what to stress about and what to let slide, and gives them firm footing from which to proceed. (and gives you firm ground later on if they try to challenge your authority or your evaluation of their work).

    It sounds like you are thinking of all the right things. Good luck!

    • Thanks for your thoughts! I’ve tried bringing attention to the people having the side conversations by asking if they have a question, but they keep doing it day even with that prodding. it’s always the same two or three people – everyone else seems to know not to do it. I was thinking of institution anti-participation, whereby they lost participation points by talking when they are not supposed to be.

      • If you have participation points to play with, that is an idea …but first I would try the ‘just stopping’ technique. It is often the same group all the time, and the rest of the class will thank you if you manage to stop it. Or if you have a wireless microphone, you could take it up to where they are so everyone can hear their conversation. That would take gumption, and humour, but you would only ever need to do it once.

      • You need to talk to them after class–tomorrow. Tell them that they cannot do this and, as d. says, dock their participation grade. Not 5 or 10 points, but 35%. If they improve, later you can build in a second participation grade . I scatter three such grades throughout the semester.

  5. Over a very long career teaching a variety of students from adult women part-timers to professionals (eg nurses) upgrading their qualifications to classes of 200+ low SES students in first-year, I have three comments to make:
    1. Set the rules in the very first class and stick to them – at least until you establish a rapport. Also make sure all your TAs follow the rules. This is particularly important if you are teaching in a non-traditional way. It is surprising how much they come along with you if you start from day one and not try to change them when they have already settled into their familiar ways of doing things. I was amazed at how much more compliance I got when I just told them how it was going to be in my class, and I didn’t care what anyone else did in other classes. (Same applies for strategies about grading, where I worked were were obliged to state our marking schedules in writing within the first couple of weeks).

    2. In a large class, i would tell them that I had only one rule in the lecture theatre: either I talked or they talked. If they talked, I would stop and let them talk until they had finished, then I would start again mid-sentence. I just stopped and stood in front of them perfectly still. If I stopped talking, everyone in the class could hear and see who was talking. Sometimes it was a legitimate question someone wanted to ask, in which case the one rule applied to them – everyone else stopped talking while they asked the question or pointed out my mistake (an average of one mistake per lecture, year after year). At the beginning of each class I also stood absolutely still until they were all quiet and looking at me. Eventually they worked it out and started shushing each other. It seems like it takes ages, but in reality it is only a few moments and is quicker and much calmer than trying to ‘tell’ them to be quiet, or starting to talk over them. I explained that they didn’t have to be there, no-one marked the roll at my institution, so if they wanted to talk and not listen they were free to leave. I would sometimes remind them of this if there was a group who kept chattering – not pointing them out, just re-stating my one rule to the air in general.

    3. It is worth persevering with strategies to ‘calm’ down someone who is habitually disruptive in any way, because the other students appreciate them stopping. The class may giggle, and may take his/her part if you call the disrupter out, but they are really on your side. I have had many, many students tell me that they appreciated having disrupters stop disrupting; and some who commented on the annoyance of general babble in other peoples’ classes, and that didn’t happen in mine.

    As for the one person who takes over the discussion, the only suggestion I have is to ask her to let you finish the lesson because you have material to cover “THAT MAY BE ON THE EXAM” (that usually gets their attention); and make an appointment for the student to come and discuss her wider views with you at another time. I once had a student whom the class asked to keep her opinions to herself, and she would then sit quietly during class and follow me back to the office with a whole lot of questions and ideas that were not necessarily directly related to that lesson. I am still friends with her personally, many many years later.

    • p.s. I forgot to mention, this has nothing to do with imposing looks. I am less than 5 ft tall, and dressed reasonably casually and only ever wore my flat lab shoes; but I could still command their attention by just being quiet.

  6. Thanks for this! I’m a young female prof and have had a few of these experiences as well. Another issue I deal with is being referred to as ‘Ms.’ Or ‘Mrs.” Rather than doctor or professor. I find this most often with my freshman, but also with my make middle aged graduate students. Probably for personal reasons, this bothers me the most. I’m curious to hear other women’s experience.

    • This irritates me too, and happened a few times last semester. I’ve head it off this time, so far at least, by introducing myself the first day of class and making a joke about my long last name, and then saying “You can call me Dr. or Professor X (last name) or just Dr or Professor X (initial)”. I also sign my emails Dr. X, even though it feels really dorky.

  7. Here’s a blog post where I discuss some bad behaviour and how I deal with it:

    The post came about because a past student of mine was told the story by the woman student who was being bullied in my class when I called the guy out for bullying. Apparently it made a big impact on her, it shut him down from being a jerk fro *most* of the rest of the term, and it seemed to get the class on *my* side (rather than have them gang up on me).

    It really depends on the situation whether calling the student out in front of the class is a good idea. I suspect that if students think the student was even remotely justified in their behaviour, then your dropping the hammer on them may galvanize them all against you. However, it’s been more my experience that students are just as annoyed by these students, and really appreciate profs who get things to stop.

  8. Thanks so much for writing this and everyone who has commented as well! I am a young female professor and I’ve definitely struggles with certain students’ behaviors. I have the same regrade policy as mentioned in the comments; where students can only request a regrade if they write a paragraph and resubmit their test/quiz/assignment within 7 days of it being handed back. This policy has really reduced the amount of arguing about grades in class. As another professor mentioned, I also will stop the lecture if students are talking during class. But that never seems to be a problem. I also deal with students calling me “Mrs. K” which drives me crazy, and hasn’t stopped even though I did introduce myself as “Dr. K” and sign my emails as such.
    I was having problems, particularly with a senior-level elective course that I was teaching (outside of my discipline) and asked the department head to come watch me teach and give me some feedback. He didn’t have much to say about my style, but suggested that I come to class a few minutes early and make “small talk” with my students. As a young woman, I have to say that I feel like I need to always have a strong front and don’t really feel like I can be casual with my students…. at least at first. Now that the semester is well underway, I’m trying out the small talk thing. But I still feel like I need to start off the semester being a strong presence in the classroom, and set ground rules early.
    I’m curious if anyone else has advice. Thanks again, drmellivora!

  9. Dr K … in my experience, it depends on the class.

    In general, i agree with you that it is important to set ground rules on day 1 and establish some authority (but you don’t necessarily need to be authoritarian).

    After that, it depends on the class and your ‘feel’ for how they regard you.

    And how many students come early anyway? In my experience, it is more of a problem with latecomers disrupting your carefully-constructed introduction to the lesson.

    I admit I usually tried to go early – as long as the lecture theatre wasn’t being occupied too long by the previous lecturer – purely to set everything up. Then if some students drifted in, we might have informal conversations about what i was doing.

    If it is a large class of first-years (I would have 200-ish), then small talk is neither appropriate nor possible. However, i did enjoy more intimate conversations with students in small higher-year classes, particularly if I was running it as seminar and they had stuff to read and discuss, or presentations of their own to prepare, or if their expertise was in a different area from mine and I could ask questions about their interests and learn new things as well. (I often taught chem or biochem to students in areas as diverse as horticulture and food studies and nursing). But I found that stopping a little sooner and allowing time for this type of interaction after the ‘business’ worked better than assuming students would get there early.

    Also, in a lab situation, it is sometimes possible to take a few minutes while the student is waiting for something to boil or adjusting a microscope or something, to ask them about their course and their interests… or something.

    My suggestion is to take everyone’s experience on board, and adjust it to whatever your gut feeling tells you to do in your own situation.

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  12. Thank you for your authenticity in sharing your experiences with us. I can relate to much of what you’ve struggled with. I have an entirely different approach from “You have to ACT like you have no emotional response”. Keeping my cool is important, but sharing my emotional experience has gotten me even mileage with my students. I started to take a NVC (nonviolent communication) class that got me comfortable with being aware of my own feelings (not judgements) and needs. One day, close to tears, I said to my class “I’m feeling frustrated and disheartened and I need respect and consideration”. The class instantly responded to my needs. The language of NVC often brings out people’s best because you give them nothing but truth to respond to. I recommend it!

  13. I completely agree with this! It is my first year teaching and I’m just finding it so difficult. I tend to always just scold students and continue just giving lectures on how it is not the right way to behave. I thought I was the only one, but this article was really useful and really made me feel a lot better, knowing that I’m not on my own in this struggle. Thank you.

  14. I have been teaching the course for a year and, needless to say, as a femalePhD in engineering, I get challenged alot. I accept it, it usually stops after the third week. But there is always a pair, two hombres, who are rambunctious and arrogant They feed off each other in their obnoxiousness. I’d like to improve their behavior. Should I talk to them one-on-one? Or both at once?

    Any tips would be appreciated.

    • I think that you should just fail them.

      No, I’m kidding. But seriously, you should talk to your dean about it, and other profs in your department who are good friends or acquaintances with you. Chances are, those two are probably not going to make it for too long since you alerted your colleagues about them.

      First impressions are always important. Students know how to sniff out the weak ones from the strong ones. Warn them right from the get-go that you’re here to lecture them as a professor, a DOCTOR no less, and that all school policies and code of conduct must be followed. The dean will back you up, and so will your colleagues.

      Try cold-calling on any of your students, especially those two, sporadically. You, as a professor, has so much power than you think. Honestly, some profs abuse their power, but find your own niche of respect and authority. Think about yourself more than anyone else in the room because you deserve it.

      At a university level, there’s no need for you as their instructor to ‘improve their behavior.’ They’ve signed up to take higher level courses and eventually earn a degree. You’re not there to babysit them. You are there to share knowledge about your field of expertise to a thousand of other future engineers and PhD hopefuls. You honestly don’t need to maul yourself over two individuals because they’re just extra unnecessary headaches.

      Also, always keep your voice firm. Your body language matters as well.

  15. I am a new female prof who is also currently struggling with rude behaviour. I have several years research and am widely respected in the profession, but dealing with undergraduate students is another world entirely. I started my 3rd year class off strongly with authority and firmness, and the students responded well. Then, 3/4 of the way through the semester, I initiated what all advice books said – show up early and make small talk with students, and generally start demonstrating interest in their studies. This advice BACKFIRED in a big way. Students got the impression that I’m a nice, spineless, pushover. Now I would say 1/2 the class talk over me during class, and I know I am going to have to take individual students aside privately to talk about it. I think this whole situation could have been avoided if I had not opened up and tried to be “nice” in the first place. Next semester, I’m going to be an authoritative B-I-T-C-H. I’d rather get teaching scores that reflect respect, rather than ones that reflect derision.

  16. I am a secondary science teacher and am in my second year of teaching. I also experience similar behaviors although they are a younger of course. I am not sure how this will relate to teaching at a university but here it goes. One thing I find helpful is using amplification. This helps greatly because my voice overpowers the students’ voices. I also use a three note chime bell at the start of class, at the end of labs, or just to get their attention. I notice this keeps me from trying to yell over them. The bell may seem elementary but I’ve seen it used in other arenas as well. Another thing I do is use proximity. If two students are engaging in conversation, I will walk over and lecture by them. This usually gets them to stop talking.

  17. Thank you so very much for this post 🙂 It is so great to know that I am not alone.
    I have been teaching courses at a community college for a year and a half now, and I also designed and taught two courses based on my research at the four-year university level. I am female, and look young, though i dress to impress. I am also easygoing and lean more on the kind side, just because that’s my personality. I’ve tried to be stern in the past, and do when the time calls, but more often than not I stick to my core personality.

    Every semester, I have one student who sits right up front and challenges the lecture. They do it for very different ways: one was a female heckler in a class of mostly 60+ year old retirees. Next was an intelligent male student just out of high school who even corrected my pronunciation one time (after returning from the U.S. from teaching and researching in other countries for nigh on ten years, I found that one particularly infuriating). Then I had a male student who was just very interested, but wasn’t aware of the class of 45 people behind him. Now I have one male student who likes to share all of the knowledge of the universe, and in another class, a male student who has criticized the ‘difficulty’ of my quizzes and the structure of the class about four times- and we’re only in week three of the semester.

    I haven’t found a one-size-fits-all solution. But all of the do-not-challenge advice comes into play. For the female heckler: i just stopped and looked at her, and let about three seconds of silence hang in the air between us, and then went on with the lecture. For the pronunciation-corrector: I thanked him and said, ‘really? cool. however, I’m not so sure that the pronunciation of this word is as important as understanding why we’re talking about this phenomena’ (the term was not central to the lecture- just an anecdote to illustrate a greater point). You could also turn the tables and switch to Socratic techniques: ‘how do you think this concept- however you want to pronounce it- illustrates the concept we’re discussing?’ But: be welcoming and ready to listen to their response. I’ve read a lot on class discussions, and that the prof needs to be ready to listen and ask follow-up questions, which is hard to do when you’re also trying to guide the discussion.

    Yesterday, I lost my patience with the male student who shares the universe. i had already spoken to him privately before class and told him that his arm-waving and calling out, etc. distracts me, and would he mind sitting off to the side, rather than directly in front of me, which he did. However, in yesterday’s class, I had to say, ‘not now’, as I moved on to the next student. i’m not sure if that was the best thing, but I might need to be more firm about not derailing the discussion/lecture and giving other students space to talk.

    For the ‘bro’, the behavior has escalated into heckling. ‘Thank you for sharing’ could work, as it did today as he called out, ‘I found a typo in your study guide!’, as I walked to the front of the room- but I’m searching for another solution. Next class I think I will have a more firm discussion with him in private.

    But my point is: I’ve found that every student was wanting something different. So maybe give yourself the space to find out what -you- want to do in each instance. I find that I make my default emotional response to the phenomenon, ‘it doesn’t matter, it’s not about me’, because reacting to the behavior might not be the best solution. So I just allow myself a second or two, remind myself that the class is on my side (with a pause they usually are), that nothing is as hard as grad school, and then think about how I want to respond. I try not to look flustered in that moment, just: thinking. Give yourself a sigh and some space.

    For the use of a proper title- ‘Doctor’ or ‘Prof’, not Mrs. or Miss- I’ve tried many different things. The best so far: right on the first day of class/orientation, about ten minutes into the introduction, when they’re settled and comfortable with me, I tell them, “My name is Dr. ___. Please call me Dr. or Professor. Please do not call me Mrs. or Miss” (but not said in a stern way. i’ve softened my tone – as last semester, when I tried this without thinking of tone, the students were too scared to ask me anything, because they forgot what to call me-?). Then continue: “The reason I’m asking you to do this is _____ (I slogged away for 7 years, -and- I really, really enjoy not having my title associated with my marital status. But! If you mess up, It’s ok.’ You can add, as I do: “What this does is put it on -me- to correct you, which I’m really uncomfortable doing, but I need to start doing it. So can I start with you?’ This might work for me just because I look so small and ‘fresh faced’, so anything else would come off as ingenuine or a power struggle. I guess adapt it to your needs. But it goes along with the spirit of the comment not to far above: that being honest about your feelings really works wonders with students, I find.

    I second above explaining to students why this discussion/activity/lecture/quiz is relevant, and why you are asking them to do it. Clear rubrics and expectations help, too, as above. But I stress that it’s such a learning process, and I’m so grateful for the comments here. Knowing that you’re not the only one that experiences this is key.

    I also rely on proximity control in almost every single class. I find that behavior clears up as soon as I step in that direction. Also: when they’re chatting, I just stop the lecture and look around, at no-one in particular. When they quiet down I say, ‘thank you’, and look genuine about that thanks, and continue.

    I guess I’ve erred on the side of playing into gender expectations, rather than try to be stern. But I find that when I try to be stern, I shake and get flustered. Maybe just remind yourself that it’s your classroom, so you have the freedom to find the way that is most comfortable for you.

  18. I loved this! I’m not a professor but I do instruct at the college level. I’m young, but very qualified. I love teaching and fostering growth and learning. I recently got a new class of students who from the start wanted to challenge me. I managed the comments from students professionally and moved on.

    Then things got tricky. To explain, with the subject matter I teach, the students must demonstrate competency for several different tasks. After their second round of competencies, several were unhappy with their scores, but instead of asking me about their scores, on their breaks they went to other instructors to complain. I was unaware of the complaints initially, however, while lecturing I started noticing lots of snickering and eye rolling. Obviously that’s very disrespectful and rude. Shortly after all of this transpired, the other instructor told me of the students complaints (not specifying names) and she said she baked me up. So the next day I decided to behin the class by telling them a story. I told them how when I was a student, an instructor counted me off for something I didn’t initially agree with. But instead of throwing a fit or running to a different instructor, I thought about why she took off points, and I realized that she was right and that I could learn from this. Then I told them my goal is to make them awesome. I told them that I would not do them the disservice of rewarding average competency with a 100% because that would give them a false sense of security and ultimately set them up for failure. I told them that when they miss a point, it’s an opportunity to learn. Furthermore I told them the only person that can answer questions about their grade is me, and that if they have a question they need to come to me first.

    Well, the novice that I am, I sctually thought that would work. Instead one of the students went running to the director after class and said I was singling her out and she wanted out of my class. Which in turn made my director question me. So my director said I need to talk to this student and make it better. For the record, this student wasn’t even on my radar.

    Any tips on how to avoid this and how to move forward?

    • First, I wanted to share the statement I put in my syllabus: “I am the first to admit that I am not perfect- I may grade something incorrectly, or there may be more than one correct answer that I have not thought of. Thus, if you feel that your work falls into one of these categories, I encourage you to contest the grade. You have one week after the work is returned to contest. Please return your original assignment with a typed statement of why your answer is correct and why I should consider it for regrading.” This helps students understand that there is a protocol for contesting grades, and it also means that they don’t try and argue with me at the end of class. I just refer them to the syllabus. As for your director questioning you; that is a bigger problem. Your director should have your back. From what you said, you did not single out any students. You made a general statement to the class. If I were you, I’d ask a faculty member that you feel comfortable with what s/he would do in the situation. And, what exactly does the director mean by “make it better”??

  19. I respect you for becoming a professor after having public speaking/anxiety issues. Despite our insane culture, higher education is still a choice. No college student should be openly testing you without expectation of repercussion. I’m tired of kids thinking that college is an extension of high school. I do have the same teaching style as you, but I’m a hs teacher. As a college professor, you should be able to treat the students more like adults. They should not be able to act like jerks and also be coddled as babies because they’re young. I could not handle your job. IMHO, a little old-fashioned discipline is sometimes necessary.

  20. Thank you so much for writing this, you’ve basically outlined everything in currently going through. Luckily this year i only have one student who is seriously disruptive, but she makes me dread each class i have with her even if the rest are lovely. Have you got any tips? She’s smarmy, argumentative, and talks constantly…

  21. True story from Whitireia Community Polytechnic in Porirua, New Zealand:

    In the middle of a test, an idiot named Jonathan Benbaruk argued with the teacher who supervising, until she allowed him to leave the room, wander off without any escort or observation, and then return later with a cup of coffee. He had to go to another building to obtain it. Then, he sat back down and resumed doing the test.

    The result? Whitireia passed this guy for the test and the course. Then, their manager Leanne Pool accepted him into their nursing degree programme, which tolerated him for two years (during which he had work placements involving contact with patients), before finally booting him out.

    Another idiot named Jack Harris would sit with his buddy, playing a video game, and SCREAMING about it at the top of his lungs. Continuously for an entire two-hour class. Break for lunch, then come back for another two hours of continuous screaming.

    The result? Whitireia passed him, too. Then, their managers accepted him into their paramedic degree programme, which he failed at the end of the first year.

    Jack Harris set the overall volume of the room, with multiple other students having irrelevant conversations at the top of their lungs, as well.

    There were times when I was the only person in the room even attempting to pay attention to the teacher.

    On top of that was open student-on-student bullying, and even sexual harassment, right there in the classroom.

    More than half of these people had absolutely no business even attempting tertiary education. They did poorly on basic literacy and numeracy assessments, and couldn’t even handle remedial high school level material.

    When I complained about the out-of-control behaviour, Whitirereia managers Beth Derby, Mary Manderson, and Leanne Pool told me that I was somehow the bad student with the bad attitude. They insisted that their practices and atmosphere were totally legitimate, and normal for all degree-granting institutions.

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