Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Professors must control their classrooms. From The Boise State Arbiter.

There always seems to be that one student who dominates every conversation and takes it upon themselves to answer every question the professor poses, often asking the class their own questions. Some professors let it happen, even though they are being compensated by students’ high cost tuition to dispense their knowledge on the subject.

Professors should put a stop to particularly dominating students before their rant takes over the entire class session, but often times they let it happen for far too long.

Christian Winn, a professor in the English department, has dealt with this type of student many times before.

“I’ve had to ban people from talking in class. I’ve had to tell a student to keep quiet for twenty minutes, like a time out kind of thing,” Winn said.

But Winn said stopping the behavior early is vital. “Personally, I am not an interrupting, confrontational person, but I do take the reigns quickly,” he said. “It’s the dance you have to do as a professor, establishing that balance.”

State need to take notes from colleagues like Winn who demonstrate how to effectively avoid students taking control of the class.

Frustration due to a lack of leadership in the classroom can boil over, causing students to tune out of the conversation and develop a distaste for the class.



  1. The topic of the article is reasonable, though I don't have a lot of experience with this myself. The article's second sentence shows a clear misunderstanding of how students learn.

  2. The author also shows a misunderstanding of basic paragraph usage.

    1. Oh God, Surly, I agree.

      Except for one year I took over the advising of the campus newspaper, and went around and around with advanced students about the "journalistic" paragraph, which is always shorter, and not at all related to the fully developed paragraph we teach in writing classes.

      The old advisor even read me the riot act. "They're not writing short stories," he snorted. "They have to get it out in bursts!"

      Oh I hated that whole year.

  3. Not to mention homonyms:

    I do take the reigns quickly tends to imply that the professor is establishing a little kingdom in the classroom. So maybe it's not a typo.

  4. "Students feel more comfortable when their professors know their name and encourage them to join the discussion with their input."

    They do?

    About two-thirds to three-quarters of my students hate to "join the discussion with their input," and resist every attempt to encourage them. They would much prefer to check their text messages or fall asleep, and many of them seem quite content for me to never address them by name, or even know who the hell they are.

    1. Due to FERPA, my institution automatically kicks all names from the To box of the email to the BCC box. The Blackboard equivalent our school uses also keeps the names of the other students (along with their emails) in the course from being seen. Basically, students don't have any right to know who their fellow students are or how to contact them.

      We had a little fun skewering that during our seminar yesterday.

  5. Now, THAT'S some creative writing.

  6. Like Ben, I was struck by the second sentence. I have to wonder whether the author really wants to join the conversation, or just wants "Chatty Kathy" (who is far more often "Chatty Charlie," in my experience) to shut up so the professor can talk. Encouraging participation by some students while discouraging participation by others is a challenge under the best of conditions, and doing so with students who *have* to be called on to get them to participate at all (and who occasionally take offense at being called on) is doubly difficult. I wonder how often the author chimes up in his own classes. Unless the talkative student is actively interrupting/shouting down other students, this is a problem the author and his classmates could solve without the professors's intervention (in grad school, I had female friends in other departments who had to deliberately pass the conversational ball to each other, because their professors were simultaneously criticizing them for not speaking up and doing nothing to stop the male students from dominating the conversation).

    1. I have a Chatty Charlie in class right now, who feels the need to comment every single time someone else comments. He interrupted a student presentation today to give his opinion. I had to shush him so the poor presenter up front could continue her speech (by which point she had lost her place and was all flustered). I might need to have a conversation ball to gag him.

  7. Indeed, I copied a part of the second sentence and then came into the comments to make fun.

    "they are being compensated by students’ high cost tuition to dispense their knowledge on the subject"

    Oh dear, that is not what we do at all. If we did that, we would just sit around and write books or lecture into a camera. And the tuition is more about administration and student services (big dorms, luxurious gyms etc) than it is about professor pay.

    Poor little dear.

  8. On the whole, a dumb and whiny article. This student is probably the first to complain when a professor lectures the entire time.

    I agree that disruptive students--those who derail the conversation and interrupt me and other people--need to be shut down. But I'm not going to shut a student down simply because he's enthusiastic about the material and wants to talk about it (and Cassandra's correct--it's almost always "he"). Being talkative is not being disruptive. For the most part, it's a result of enthusiasm and preparedness.

    This semester, one of my discussion sections is dominated by a particular student. He's articulate, he's read the material, and he really wants to talk about it. He even stays after class to talk about it. The other students are not prepared and have not done the reading--but nonetheless, some still look annoyed when Chatty Charlie waxes all poetic and gets unabashedly excited about a particular passage. They're not angry that he's stealing away their opportunities to participate (he's not)--I get the sense that they're resentful because he works hard and is smart.

    And I don't give a fuck. My section is full of opportunities to participate, but if no one else wants to chime in, and if no one else is prepared to chime in when I try to pull answers from them, then yes, I will let Chatty Charlie talk as much as he wants. It's his class, too, and I don't see him as a hindrance. I see him as someone who came to get his money's worth--all that "high cost tuition" that the author complains about.

  9. "Although a student who just wants to talk and talk during class is surely not necessarily in need of a code of conduct violation being handed to them, it does illustrate the classroom is everyone’s place to learn and professors do have the control."

    Yeah, sure. Of course, there are the unwritten rules as well. Say Kathy gets 86'd from class because, after multiple warnings, she just won't shut the fuck up. Then, the next day, her dad pays the president a visit and flashes his balance sheet. In the resulting fall-out, said professor is informed that the classes he was assigned to teach the following semester are no longer available to him because "the president hates drama".

    Because he/she is adjunct, then there's nothing he can do about it. After all, the school doesn't have to give him/her classes to teach. It's enough cause to just say that there "weren't any classes".

    And you can't win. If he/she doesn't address the Kathy matter, then he/she faces retribution for NOT managing his/her classroom. Ultimately, you can only be as consistent with managing your classroom as administration is with backing you. (Of course, in the end they's say it's "your fault" just to save face.) And this business of backing the tenured faculty but not the adjuncts? That's just complete bullshit.

    And I'll say it again: it's college. We shouldn't have to "manage" our classrooms. If you need to be "managed" then it's time to leave.

  10. What I love is the picture included, with the "professor" pointing at the whiteboard.

    Is that what they think we look like?

    Actually, I am kind of the female version of that guy. Sans beard.

    At least after I've waxed.

  11. I would love to have a Chatty Kathy in most of my classes, because mostly they won't say anything at all. On the rare occasions when a student does want to answer every damn question I let them answer the first two, and then say "no, you've had the last two - anyone else?" and usually someone else will step in. This doesn't seem that hard to me.

    On the other hand I've been doing this for more than 2 decades.