Sunday, August 18, 2013

Advice for Junior Proffies - unsolicited but real

Frenna's reply to last week's Big Thirsty included this:

And since my worst student ever will be back with me this Fall, [I'd like] the ability to mute folks as needed. The class [h]as no need for disrespectful, rude, snide comments! 

I think this merits its own post. When I started teaching, I was too socialized about being "nice" and thus let a number of classes get dominated by disrespectful students. Eighteen years in, I now let the little dears know who's boss immediately. It really helps.

Frenna, if your term hasn't started yet,  make sure your syllabus includes your expectations  about classroom conduct and and give examples of possible consequences, including being dismissed from class on the first instance. Then see the following steps.

If your term has started already, then it's too late to change your syllabus, but not too late to do the following:

Make a handout based on the Disciplinary Action reporting form (or whatever your campus calls it). Hand it out soon. Tell the class that you want them to have a respectful, polite classroom, and that to protect the majority of students, you will dismiss students for rudeness at the first opportunity and report them to the Discipline Office.  Say that there will be no warning first. This is their warning.

Then kick ass as needed. If you dismiss your "worst student ever" and he(?) threatens you in any way, call campus police  immediately. You can ask students to take 5 minutes to look over the syllabus and come up with questions while you make the call.  Then tell your department chair and your dean after class.

Side benefits: other potential jerks will know you mean business, and your students who are decent human beings will respect you and empathize with you for the rest of the semester.


  1. I totally agree that you need to have your own list of behaviors that will get students booted from the class. Then, you need to follow through. It is awkward the first time you do it----I still remember! I told the student to leave, he refused, I called security. I did not leave to call---we have a phone in the classroom. I told the student I was calling, I called, he had a fit, and security arrived to take him away. Then, we picked up right where we left off.

    The rest of the students are really very anxious for the whole problem to just go away so they can get back to business as usual.

    I have not had to do it very many times over the years----but after that first time, I felt a lot more comfortable. In fact, most of the students just pick up their things and leave as I pick up the phone. In that case, I'd advise still making the call, and describing the student. At my school, security will stop them on the way out and have a little chat with them.

    One more thing I'd advise-----tell them in your syllabus that if they do get asked to leave, they can't come back until they sign a behavior contract. It helps if the Dean of Students is in on this (ours USED to be) but you can do it on your own. And tell them that any work they miss while they are putting off meeting to do the behavior contract thing gets a zero.

    Those behavior contract meetings, when they happen, have been very productive for me.

    1. Good point. I have to remember to store the campus police number on my cell. It has never happened, but I'd have no problem doing it if somebody refused to leave. It's right there in the Handbook: "disruption of instruction".

    2. Excellent ideas. I'm writing my syllabus right now and will include the behavioral contract.

      BTW, I was not suggesting that proffies leave the classroom to make the call. Thanks for clarifying that, Bella.

    3. What do you do when you don't have campus security? I am on a small commuter campus, and the nearest police are not really close enough to call. In fact, I don't believe we even have a protocol for dealing with behavioral issues. Or if we do, I am not aware of it...

  2. I like Bella's idea of a behavior contract. I have no problems kicking a student out of class for being a disruptive asshole, but I never thought to make them sign something before they are allowed to come back in.

    I do have behavior guidelines and consequences in my syllabus, and I go in guns blazing on the first day. I also make them sign the last page of the syllabus stating that they have read it and agree to abide by my rules and then hand that in for their first quiz grade. That has covered my ass more than once when I've had to bring the smack down on students for grade challenges or behavior issues.

    I do find it's much better to start out a hard ass and then get nicer as the semester progresses than to start out "nice" and then try to enforce rules later. If you enforce the rules the first time and come down on that student hard, then everybody else gets the message that you are not to be messed with and falls into line and there is much less trouble later on. But the follow through is absolutely essential to that.

    1. I like that approach. Start out hard and get nicer.

      The Strelnikov School of Classroom Behavior. Find a slacker the first day and eviscerate him. The rest will fall in line quickly. Or call Irma Brown.

  3. I've never had an open challenge in class, probably because I make a point on the first week to "let them know who's boss". I even did that as an assistant professor. It's a little tricky, since you have to be clear, yet friendly enough to avoid creating an antagonistic atmosphere in class.

    That's one reason I refrain from "getting personal" with students in any way, in spite of all the recommendations to "get to know them as people, and get them to know you". I don't want that, I think keeping the appropriate distance helps with maintaining complete control of the situation.

    Also, students react to "complete control" in the usual way: poor evaluations, regardless of how the class goes. So you have to be in a position to ignore that, and that requires a kind of academic administrator that's increasingly rare.

  4. This is such great advice, Proffie Galore. I too had the overly nice socialization hurt me in the classroom. I had one very conservative "Christian White Men are the Most Persecuted people in America!" type of student. I tried very very hard to make him feel comfortable in spite of his biased comments. I just encouraged him to open himself to multiple reactions being okay, and to lose the idea of a single "right" or "wrong" answer. I wanted him to see that not all profs are going to hate him just because he was conservative.

    As a result, he gave me a scathing eval about what a pinko commie I was and that I needed to think about Christ more. And -- even worse -- the majority of my other students expressed in their scathing evals that I must also be a conservative Christian because I let Persecution Complex dominate the conversation.

    That was the last time. Now I am much more forceful, and much less patient.

    1. I had a very similar experience with a drama queen creationist. She later tried to friend me on Facebook (WTF?), and I ignored her with glee.

    2. This is delicious, PG. I think I have a little bit of a girl crush on you! Ha-ha! Please don't be weirded out. I have teenagers----they talk like this all the time!

  5. Indeed. Start off hard-assed. And dress the part. Even if it is 100 degrees in the shade: wear a suit jacket that has enough padding to make SQUARE SHOULDERS. Jeans and dress boots go nicely with that. Practice walking around with your shoulders thrown back, nice and assertive, like you own the place. Walk the room as you talk - and look for the guys you are going to nail to the wall.

    And I mean nail. If they start talking crappy abbreviations to make it look like they know hamster fur weaving cold, thank them for bringing the topic up and request that they explain the abbreviation for the class. 9 out of 10 can't. Make it a point to interrupt their long-winded and wrong explanations with a "Nope, anyone else?". Invite them up to the board to do the math calculations for everyone. Make them feel the pain. They love attention, but they are often scared of making mistakes, deep down in.

    Remember: You are in charge. And you do have the campus police on speed dial.

  6. Thank you for all of the advice guys and gals!! I know confrontation is the worst thing for me. Hir got kicked out of class once to speak to my department head. Students came to me to report the rude things they were saying about the lab instructor. He claimed we had to teach hir in their preferred way, since they have ADHD. Department head told them that this is not high school and we don't have to teach hir. (I love my department head). I think I will do better this time knowing, that even as an adjunct, my department chair has my back!

    I will also spend time going over the behavior section of the syllabus. I also need to double check the U's policy on such acts. Thanks again for all the ideas!

    1. That makes such a big difference. I also had problems with this until I discovered my chair would (and did) back me. But I will definitely cut problem students off faster next time.


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