Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Classroom Management: An Early Thirsty

We are supposed to "manage" our classrooms.  I get that.  But then, somebody comes along who needs to be managed to the extent of 86ing them from the classroom.  They make noise in the Dean's Office about it and then the Dean hates you.

The following semester, you decide that a better approach would be to not involve administration.  Just try to grin and bear things, reason with people, give the evil eye, etc. but then certain students just won't knock off their shit.  Worse yet, your students start to complain to the Dean about the disruptive students.  The Dean then hates you for "not managing your classroom".

Q:  When was the last time YOU were called into the Dean's Office over classroom management issues, while at the same time you aren't actually allowed to manage your classroom?


  1. This happened to me last semester. Overly confident mansplainer going on about being a "rare breed" and "unemployable" because he was a white Christian male. Then proceeded to harass the women in my classroom, report me for my liberal leanings in class. I tried so FUCKING hard to appease this guy. I reported him to the Dean, which led this student to file a formal "hostile classroom" complaint. The kicker: my evals all said I was racist and sexist for supporting his views because they didn't know I had kicked him out and received that complaint filed against me.

    You can't win. Everyone hated me by the end of the class, all because that guy was a piece of shit. Those students are the worst.

    1. Ugh. That sounds horrible. If he was harrassing the women in your classroom, then he should have been removed from the situation and faced some kind of reprimand.

      Equally annoying, however, are the students who believe that we endorse every perspective entertained in our classrooms. A lot of students think that if you're not directly and stridently repudiating a student for their unpopular or misinformed perspective, that you are okay with that perspective. I'd like to just tell these students to suck it up; the workplace is full of many kinds of douchebags, and there are no evaluate-my-boss websites.

    2. How a situation like this turns out depends also on how the institution handles it. When an 86 is justified but admin has no balls, then it becomes atleast next to impossible for the instructor to do anything alse to remedy the situation.

      I'd like to see a Dean get reprimanded for "poor campus management".

  2. When I was an Accursed Visiting Assistant Professor, I got yelled at for this regularly. The dull, humorless blob of a department Chair who did this once on the very next day seemed genuinely perplexed about how to improve student quality.

  3. You keep bringing up this topic and it seems like you feel persecuted. In general, I've found that professors with classroom management issues in the college environment have themselves allowed these situations to evolve.

    But that's not necessarily so in your case. To find out, I'd take a little poll of your colleagues that teach in similar situations. If most of your colleagues don't have these classroom management problems and you do, then you're the problem and you need to fix things.

    1. This sounds to me like blaming the victim. Aren't college students supposed to conduct themselves like adults anyway, so that they shouldn't need to be "managed" in the classroom? Whenever I find cases who do, I get this terrible feeling that it is beneath me to discipline them. Nevertheless, I do discipline them whenever necessary, these days. It helps enormously that I now have higher-ups who are more supportive, but when I was a contingent/tenure-track faculty, walking that tightrope was very precarious, and (to mix a metaphor) fed that damned feeling of the lunatics having taken over the asylum.

    2. P.S. As a real-life Indiana Jones, I stopped having classroom discipline problems when I started using the whip. It works great.

    3. I've done the polling thing in the past. There were 10 other faculty who taught the same Transitioning Hamsters to Solid Kibble courses and generally they had similar problems with students.

      Ironically, I did notice a pattern: Adjuncts were often disrespected by students whereas tenured faculty were not. (There were a few tenured instructors who unfortunately were given THSK 100 to teach whether by choice or because they were being censured, none of my business). In my experience, students often know right away whether you are an adjunct or if you are some other poor soul who isn't "protected".

      Blame? Well let's see... Who's doing the disrupting?

      "I've found that professors with classroom management issues in the college environment have themselves allowed these situations to evolve."

      Really now?! Just take a moment to re-examine your sample population. What are they supposed to do if their students know that the Dean has no backbone? How many of those instructors had tenure?

      Maybe I do feel persecuted. Not as a person, but as an adjunct. It's not that I feel like I'm personally being centered out, we just happen to be an easy target for things.

      Stella, having boasted about having tenure, I would challenge you to teach a remedial class. You know, one of those that get left unclaimed by faculty at the last minute and the Dean has to hire some poor bastard off the streets to teach the class without "protection".

      Then one day when you are passing back tests and some lunatic coming off of whatever drug they are decked out on (yes, this shit happens) starts banging their fist on their desk, slamming things down, refusing to calm down, and other students chime in throwing a fit over their score, how would you handle it without involving the Dean or security? I bet you would shit your pants.

      Or is that behavior the instructor's fault? Should we sit him/her down at the table and give him/her some condescending advice about the "importance of telling them the rules on the first day"?

      Or is it like this?

      Student wants to be absent alot: bad teacher.
      Students drop F-bomb in class: bad teacher.
      Students won't do homework: bad teacher.
      Student abuses drugs and comes to class bouncing off the walls like Pee-Wee Herman on the David Letterman Show: bad teacher.

      And before everyone blows this out of proportion and accuses me of thinking my students are scum and on drugs... Just no. Some of them are actually good students. I'm talking about SOME of the one's who cause trouble. It's not hard to tell if someone is under the influence, especially with meth/crack. 1/3 of the population here at Wolf359 is on meth/crack, and that's based on an actual study.

      Still want to blame the teacher?

      Lastly, if one is indeed the problem, how DOES one fix things?

    4. I wouldn't advise that anyone "poll" their colleagues in this situation. When it comes to teaching, colleagues are often the least trustworthy source of information, and most people I know like to inflate their own classroom management abilities. (Everyone I know gets outstanding evaluations and is beloved by each and every one of their students. So as a result, I am also an outstanding teacher, perfect in every way.) If EMH's workplace is as toxic as it sounds, then 1) he's probably not going to get honest answers; and 2) his own misgivings and problems might be held against him in the future.

    5. EMH: I guess my question to you is, are you still teaching? Over the summer you seemed to indicate that you didn't get classes and were leaving and going off to another state, to do only online stuff. I recall some sort of bit about recommendations and just generally having a lousy time and just being tired of it all. Don't blame you, but I'm sort of confused. Online teaching doesn't involve classroom management problems. Are you still ruminating on your former classroom existence? Or are these the same problems in a new place?

      I've got plenty of suggestions about how to deal with the sort of students you describe. Yes, I've taught remedial classes and I usually teach at least one section of freshman comp 1, NON honors, at my "all access" university in methland. I've been teaching since 1986 and I would guess there's nothing you have experienced that I haven't as well.

      As for polling colleagues, which is my first suggestion, I don't want you to think that you pass around a piece of paper, or as direct questions. These things must be handled delicately.

      No one wants to say bad things about themselves, but they are always willing to rag on other people, no matter how close-knit the department. You don't poll people about themselves. You poll them about others. This is how I know everything that I know about my colleagues, from sexual indiscretions with students to leaving the windows open in the faculty lounge. I know who grades easily in my department, and who is a lazy ass, and who cancels class all the time, and who lets their students do whatever they like. I know this from observation and from just being a "good listener". Academics love to spread gossip and foment dissent, and I keep my eyes and ears open. From there you triangulate a bit to see if the gossip is warranted, and you make a judgment either about the person gossipping or the one being gossipped about. This is not necessarily accomplished in a day, but then neither is fixing classroom management problems.

    6. Stella, I think you're right about the pattern you bring up. And basically everything you say here is solid departmental management advice.

      But I can confirm that some online forums can get UP IN THERE worse than a brick-and-mortar classroom (see: CM blog and the number of times we've had to delete comments, posts, partial threads, images, etc) enabled by the impersonality of an online platform.

      Sometimes the bold anonymity makes online classroom management even more difficult, as students have to be smacked down quickly and efficiently in Week One. In the open air of a building you can be a bit more subtle. It takes practice to do it adequately in the online format, where you cannot yell or make eye contact or point to their idiotic behavior.

      (or so it seems to me)

    7. And perhaps it would do us all good to read the first four sentences of this post to understand EMH a bit better: http://collegemisery.blogspot.com/2011/05/emh-miserable-and-reflecting.html

    8. I hadn't read that one. It provides all kinds of insight that I had suspected, but now have confirmed... AM.

  4. Stella has some good suggestions. It's also possible that you're teaching in a particularly messed-up institution (maybe mine is just larger, but I can't imagine the Dean becoming involved in *anything* that has to do with classroom events, and not only because the Dean shows every sign of thinking that undergraduate teaching is a complete waste of time and money, and those who do it beneath notice. Okay, that might be a little harsh, but it's definitely not high on his priority list. My chair or program director could potentially become involved if a class were falling apart, but that's rare, and anything that couldn't be handled at that level would probably be such a mess that the university police and/or lawyer would end up involved).

    You teach an in-demand subject; have you considered switching institutions (or switching areas entirely -- weren't you going to move? *did* you move? it sounds like you're at the same place)? Or teaching online? Or sticking to tutoring (where you can just cut ties with any clients who don't behave)? It just doesn't sound like you, this particular institution, and its students are a good fit, which may not be entirely the fault of any of the three factors/parties involved. They may really need you (if they didn't, they'd probably have replaced you by now with someone who ends up in the Dean's office less), but that suggests that you're also employable elsewhere (and no, you don't need to use anyone at this institution for a reference). But that doesn't mean you have to work for them, especially if there's something that would fit your skill set, temperament, etc., better. It sounds a bit like you're a square peg hitting yourself repeatedly over the head (and/or receiving such blows from others) in hopes of fitting into a round hole. Not a good idea.

    P.S. No, I've never really had a serious classroom-management problem. I'm not sure I should take any real credit for that, however. My expectations are fairly minimal, and I tend to let a good deal roll off my back (perhaps more than I should, but I do make sure that students aren't distracting each other, sidetracking the class, etc., etc.). Probably most significant, I teach a course that requires at least late-sophomore status at a somewhat selective school. I've also never heard anyone at my school talk about expectations for/of classroom management, in orientation, a teacher workshop, or anywhere else. It probably comes up a bit in the training of grad students who will be teaching for the first time, but on a more sophisticated level than keeping students from behaving so badly that they distract each other. Honestly, if you find yourself in an institution where there is a substantial body of policy, of which new and returning faculty are regularly reminded, related to classroom management, that strikes me as a sign that that's not an institution you want to work for, at least not long term. Either they've got unreasonable expectations for what constitutes a properly-run classroom, or (more likely) they've got out-of-control students. Either way, you end up spending a lot of energy on stuff that really shouldn't be part of a college professor's job. Students who need to be "managed" to any significant degree don't belong in college. If they didn't learn basic civility in K-12, they can learn it elsewhere and come back to college when they've finished.

    1. The classic "Don't care more about their education than they do" approach. Definite merit, there.

  5. I have had my issues with classroom management, which is no surprise when you have classes of 100-300 students. The approach the works for me is as follows: I give them a warning, tell the class it's a reminder to everybody, and say that if I have to ask the offending student or anybody else for the rest of the class, somebody will be leaving. When it happens again, I ask the student to pack their things and leave since it's clear they are not there to learn. They usually oblige. On the odd occasion they don't, I say, "Fine, you can stay, but if you stay I will leave, and if I leave the entire class will need to learn the rest of the chapter on their own." Then I ask for a show of hands: "How many people want to learn the rest of this chapter on their own? What, nobody?" The offending student then feels every eye in the class on them as I turn back to them. I ask, "So, what's it going to be?" That's all it's taken thus far. They might be cocky enough to try and push me around, but there's no way they are so far gone that they want to stand up to every student in the class. (At least not yet.)

    I'm curious, for others who have found effective means of controlling student disruptive behaviour, what have you done?

    1. Yes, and it remains effective until they go running to the Dean.

    2. If I recall, individual students filed complaints against you claiming you were drunk, right? And then Dean was angry with you for not getting your transportation situation figured out. So do you think it's a systemic problem, or a problem between you and your dean?

    3. They have complained to the Dean - three different Deans in fact - and they've always had my back. They know I don't pull that trigger unless I absolutely need to, which is once or twice a semester.

    4. p.s. I also take almost the entire first class to let them know EXPLICITLY what I expect from them and what they can expect from me in return. I have found it quite effective for the most part.

      p.p.s. Students and Deans can smell weakness. Just remember who is in charge (it's you!), and bring the union in if anybody is giving you flack for doing your job. If you don't have a union, bring in a friend in a suit and tell them that he/she is a lawyer. ;-)

    5. @Cynic:

      You would also recall that one of the administrators had my back about the supposed "being drunk" and we were able to prove their claim was not true.

      Their complaint about being drunk was issued in retaliation to my kicking them out of class. We held a hearing and disciplined them for filing a false complaint.

    6. Yes, another administrator had your back, and clearly, the students were retaliating. But since the dean didn't immediately dismiss the students' complaints based on the ridiculousness of it, do you think perhaps this dean has it out for you?

      For clarification, are you still at that job???

    7. @EMH: Glad I could help.

      p.s. I think it's actually funny a student would accuse a professor of being drunk if it is clearly untrue. Don't listen to Cynic, we all know that every complaint needs to be evaluated regardless of how ridiculous it is.

  6. I can see why Stella thought this was something you felt persecuted for since it is a recurring theme in your life. I thought you quit your job at that place and moved out West this summer to teach online???!!! What happened? I'm sorry to hear you're back in the place where you don't have a dean who trusts your judgment.

    In 15 years of teaching, I haven't ever been called in for classroom management issues. I teach remedial/developmental sequences every year, and have students who attempt to push buttons, but they get shut down pretty quickly (I do something similar to what Naughty Professor has written about above)...

    I've had individual students complain for things (like the plagiarist who filed a complaint claiming I'm racist, or a student who complained that I was requiring them to learn profanity because some of the literature we read has "hell" or "damn" and a Lamott piece is called "Shitty First Drafts."). But other than that, I haven't allowed any disruptive behavior to escalate to a point where the class gangs up on me (what a nightmare).

    1. From EMH, May 2011: "Having Asperger's and sociophobia doesn't help the situation either...."

    2. @AM

      Are you trying to be helpful or are you poking fun?

    3. EMH: I don't think anyone is poking fun, but there is a collective memory about your past troubles. You've admitted that you're a person with sociophobia, which leads me to wonder why you went into teaching, and that you have "a history of bad experiences working for others," which leads me to think that the others you've worked for are not the problem. You think all people are mean to you, and that they are not safe to be around. This is your own commentary on your own situation, and it doesn't seem to change.

      So people have to factor that in when they consider your complaints, and your continued insistence that you are the victim.

      So are you teaching now or not?

    4. "You've admitted that you're a person with sociophobia, which leads me to wonder why you went into teaching"

      Fair enough.

      "a history of bad experiences working for others,"

      That's not a direct quote of mine, so I don't know why you are using quotation marks to begin with. In all fairness, I've also had many great experiences working for others. However, this is College Misery, so go figure.

      "You think all people are mean to you, and that they are not safe to be around. This is your own commentary on your own situation, and it doesn't seem to change."

      Quantifiers are important, especially in Freshman Comp. I've had my fair share of experiences from mean people but I don't believe I ever said that ALL people are mean to me.

      If you are genuinely trying to be helpful, then thank you. But I can't help but wonder, after examining your discourse with Beaker Ben the other day, if you are just looking to have a little fun.

    5. Hmm. I don't think it's particularly helpful to say "Gee, you have x disability, so I don't know why you chose y career." EMH is teaching right now, so asking why he decided to teach in the first place seems a tad bit counterproductive. Obviously he was considered qualified enought to get the job in the first place.

      Moreover, people do grow, change, and overcome their disabilities. Would we tell a dyslexic student to give up her dreams of becoming an editor since spelling is a problem for her? (Full disclosure: my good friend is a successful editor ... who happens to have dyslexia.) And anyways, don't most jobs require people to work with other people, and therefore overcome or work around sociophobia? If EHM had decided to become a lawyer or an accountant, he'd still be faced with similar challenges. In fact, academic seems to attract a very high number of people with sociophobia; being outgoing and gregarious does not seem to be part of the job description here.

      Having said that, there's nothing to say that EMH can't consider a career change if things really aren't working out. No one should be miserable for the rest of their lives.

    6. I don't think I or Stella of Academic Monkey are attempting to poke fun, EMH. I think you're misinterpreting our attempts to garner more information from you as poking fun when, for me, at least, I'm just confused because, based on what you've said:

      (a) you're no longer in a situation where you need to manage a classroom, so why the thirsty?

      (b) you've claimed to have Aspberger's and to be sociophobic, which indicates perhaps that teaching isn't a situation in which you would feel comfortable;

      (c)if anyone doesn't agree with you that it's the dean's fault, then you provide more evidence about unreasonable student behavior to try to get them to agree with you that it's all the Dean's fault, which indicates that perhaps you're not really asking a genuine thirsty but looking for verification of your own behavior.

      These things confuse me. I think this community genuinely wants to help each other, which can't be done when we aren't sure why a question is being posed.

    7. EMH, what I've noticed is that you seem to consistently experience an enormous amount of professional drama in your life, drama which at least in part is under your control, which never seems to be your fault. You can't get to class. You can't keep your students in line. You can't seem to get a rec from the dean. Then months ago you announce that you're leaving the terrible, unsupportive university that was so mistreating you, to go somewhere else and do purely online stuff. When CMers ask you what happened, and if you're still teaching at the horrid university (which you're still calling by the same name), you evade answering.

      Are you at a new place with the same old problems? Again, this would be a sign that you are at least in part responsible for your own misery. If you're teaching online, and you're not in the classroom anymore, you're feeding a pretty big monkey on your back.

    8. EMH, I was most definitely NOT poking fun. I am very sympathetic to your situation and I thought the others might have a better assessment for you if they kept that in mind, that's all.

      I would say that we should never 100% blame ourselves, nor 100% blame our environment, but come to a mixed conclusion wherein we can resolve to be better teachers while still understanding that sometimes snowflakes can be little shits.

      I do wonder with the rest of them if you are still at that University or if you are in a new situation. Do tell!

    9. (Also, I've been forthcoming about being epileptic, which creates its own set of problems when controlling the classroom, organizing materials, and collaborating with colleagues)

  7. Whenever I smelled students fomenting problems, I usually beat them to the punch and ran to the department chair to warn him or her and get his or her perspective first.

    The advice was usually lame, but at least they knew my side before the tears and lies. (And it was always tears and lies.)

    I am sick and fucking tired of this expectation that every single teacher (whether kindergarten or college) *MUST* be capable of super-heroic effort, limitless empathy, and unwavering, robotic interaction with students who are increasingly incapable, lazy, insane, and/or angry at being forced to learn something, often something they CHOSE to learn about.

    I had good teachers. I had bad teachers. I had mediocre teachers. I had tired teachers. I had energetic teachers. I had sober teachers. I had a few drunk teachers. I had tough teachers. I even had a few easy teachers. I survived. I thrived. Most of us --FOR GENERATIONS -- got through virtually unscathed. Why the fuck can't these kids nowadays? Why are OUR working conditions and expectations ratcheted up to 500 while theirs have waned to little more than showing up (at some schools, at least)? We all know why... and I am sick of it.

    The academy is collapsing from within, and it's taking a whole lot of us with it. Most of us wouldn't tolerate these working condition at Burger King, but we have to if we teach. Being a cog in the fast food industry is starting to look a lot more reliable, profitable, and sane every day. Too bad I have all these fucking student loans I'll never pay off blocking me from downsizing my ambitions.

    Who the fuck am I kidding? My ambitions are pipe dreams now!

    1. "I am sick and fucking tired of this expectation that every single teacher (whether kindergarten or college) *MUST* be capable of super-heroic effort, limitless empathy, and unwavering, robotic interaction with students who are increasingly incapable, lazy, insane, and/or angry at being forced to learn something..."

      And, as Peter Sacks points out in "Genration X Goes to College," be willing to do all of it for $20k per year. In our capitalist society, where everything is seemingly driven by market value, is it any wonder that education is in decline, and has been for over 40 years?


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