Difficult or Disruptive Students

Effective classroom management is the first tool when dealing with disruptive student behavior. Disruptive behavior is behavior that interferes with the learning and teaching environment and/or administrative or student services functions of the College.

Examples of disruptive or concerning behavior:

  • Verbally intimidating, threatening or abusing any person or persons.
  • Physically intimidating, threatening, abusing or assaulting others.
  • Theft or damage to college property.
  • Use, possession, distribution of illegal or controlled substances on college grounds.
  • Interfering with the learning and/or environment by disruptive behavior or lewd or indecent expressions or conduct as defined by law.
  • Making inappropriate demands for time and attention from faculty, staff and/or students.

Strategies to discourage disruptive behavior

Provide a syllabus that accurately and fully communicates class requirements and schedule. Clearly communicate deviations from the syllabus. Many student complaints arise from syllabi that create misunderstandings about course expectations.

  • Develop clear expectations for classroom behavior.
  • Develop clear consequence of disruptive behavior.
  • Inform students on the first day of class the academic and behavior expectations of the class.
  • Include these expectations on your syllabus.
  • Make due dates of and test dates clear. If changing a date or timeline make sure students are aware and understand the changes.

Although humor is a good tool to engage students, be mindful that perceptions and understanding of what is said may not be interpreted the same way by everyone.

Be engaged with your students as individuals; learn names and refer directly to comments they have made (“As Mary pointed out earlier…”)

Demonstrate through your actions that you are willing to listen to their views respectfully and that you are committed to their learning.

Role model the behavior you require of your students (e.g., being on time, treating students of differing opinions with respect).

Use structures that encourage students to get to know each other. It’s worth giving up some content time because this creates community and reins in outliers.

Let them see who you are (limit disclosure to relevant information; refrain from intimate personal details). Tell them about your background and let them see your passion for the subject. Consider sharing enough information so they realize you have a life outside the classroom. It’s harder to be uncivil to someone you see as a real person.

Consider what your limits of acceptable conduct are regarding lateness, sleeping in class, use of cell phones, alarm watches, eating in class, unrelated talking in class, etc. You have a right to set forth what is acceptable or unacceptable in your classroom. Enforce your guidelines in a consistent and equitable way.

Communicate your expectations for appropriate behavior, or “ground rules.” You can focus on factors that make a good learning environment and also more specifically on student behavior. This can be done on the syllabus, in a student driven conversation, or through a separate handout. Feel free to reference existing policies on student conduct.

Set the tone and classroom expectations early in the class. It is hard to impose new rules after the class is underway, but you can always ease up on rules that have already been established.

Use active learning techniques to fend off inattentiveness.

Seek feedback from students at mid-semester or earlier to see how things are going. This can be an informal mid-term evaluation or something more thorough. Make sure you respond – and do so in a non-defensive way.  Be honest if something is not working; change it or explain why it is persisting.

Help students see the see the value of the course. Be excited and help them see the value of the knowledge/skills they are developing, even if outside their major. Take time to explain, perhaps repeatedly, why you have the requirements that you do (For example, short papers in my classes).

Avoid grade surprises.  Make sure that students understand the grading system and that they have sufficient feedback so that the final grade is not a shock. If you count participation, make sure you let them know how they are doing in this area as the semester goes along.

Be careful about creating too much informality within the classroom environment.

Resources for managing classroom behavior and difficult students

Classroom Management

Classroom Management Strategies

Classroom Management Strategies for Higher Education

Resources for dealing with disruptive students

Disruptive students

Coping with Disruptive Students (JMU)