by Lisa Rodriguez, Ph.D.
of classroom management vary. In researching this topic, it is clear that
a common understanding for the term management might be useful.
For this purpose, management refers to issues of supervision, refereeing,
facilitating, and even academic discipline. Not all student behaviors
require intervention or confrontation while some are serious enough in
nature to warrant formal disciplinary action. Rest assured that while
there are current studies in higher education literature that suggest
a growing trend of rudeness and even overt animosity towards faculty by
students, the vast majority of classroom experiences are not dramatic.
Since many professors teach
for years without encountering some of the management instances we discuss
here, our intent is to move beyond identification of classroom problems
to suggest preventative strategies and practical solutions. For
some faculty, teaching comes quite naturally and the notion of management
in the classroom is irrelevant. But situations within the classroom do
occasionally occur that lead us to seek out advice in order to maintain
the learning environment for students not to mention our personal sanity.
Typical classroom management
topics are listed in faculty handbooks to reflect pragmatic concerns such
as policies on classroom breaks, adds and drops, disruptive and dangerous
students, emergency procedures including weapons and drugs in the classroom,
location of phones, etc. Keeping essential records is a component of this
topic and is addressed in the previous Read section.
A rule of thumb for faculty
is to keep current on policies regarding student and faculty interactions
as well as the role of your teaching assistants, if you have one. Know
your college and state policy on student conduct.
As a new faculty member, I
was terrified that I would not know how to handle students who were older
than I. I wanted very much to hear "for instances" from other
faculty. Serendipitously, our campus Staff Learning Department instituted
an online discussion forum where faculty could seek collective advice
on issues of classroom management. Your campus may use the services
of the 4faculty discussion forums. If your campus doesnít utilize
the 4faculty system, you might encourage them to do so or ask if you might
work with your Professional Development Office or Information Technology
to establish this valuable communication forum on your campus.
Some common conduct issues
identified by Gerald Amada in his research for Coping With Misconduct
in the College Classroom (1999) are listed in the table below. In
discussing what constitutes problematic classroom behaviors with colleagues,
I have decided to add to Dr. Amadaís list. While his approach does not
necessarily align with learner-centered teaching, his work does cover
many sticky issues of navigating the uncomfortable situations that occur
from time to time and suggests several strategies for working with student
services and other administrators to remedy situations.
/ Solution Suggestions Table
Undermining the instructorís authority
tricky as it speaks to "attitude." A student might belittle
the instructor or engage in a battle of the wills. This student
would need to be privately told that their attitude was confrontational
and asked how this might be resolved mutually.
"Be careful not
to read most questions about content, interpretation, or assignments
as a challenge of authority. Acting as it they are not, even
when you suspect they are, can convey a sense of confidence and
control. Sometimes merely assuring the student, while smiling, that
you have indeed reflected on this issue at length and that they
too will understand soon why the information or the assignment is
valuable diffuses the situation. You may even want to encourage
them to ask the question again at a later date if necessary."
Leaving class too frequently
|| Camps are
divided as to whether or not students should ask for permission to
leave for bathroom breaks or wait for a break in the class. I donít
require my students to limit their bathroom breaks or ask permission,
however, this is contentious for some faculty when breaks are taken
too frequently. You might privately ask the student if everything
is OK so that they know that you are concerned by their behavior.
Donít assume disrespect Ė it might be a bladder infection or some
other physical problem.
"Spacing Out" or Sitting With Back to Instructor
|| If this is
a repeated problem, students need to know that their non-verbal behavior
is perceived as disinterest. You might ask them after class if they
need a more comfortable seat. Some students are extremely shy and
it might take half of the semester before they open up enough to make
sustained eye contact or face the instructor completely. Remember
also that sustained eye contact is a culturally dictated practice
that might not be feasible for some students.
Poor hygiene (possible cultural considerations)
too much perfume, cigarette odor or other strong odors can be distracting
or even nauseating to students. The cause for the odor might be culturally
based in bathing preferences between cultures. This can be a real
problem for some faculty while others will never encounter the dilemma.
I suggest letting the offending student know that in close quarters,
some students have issues with strong smell. It might be suggested
that for the course (not their outside of class lives) that the odor
be masked in some way.
Verbal or physical threats
or physical threats are serious matters. They are discussed in detail
by experts in the field in "Handling Crisis."
As a general rule consult
professional experts for assistance immediately.
Gum, Food, Pagers, and Cell Phone Disruption
|| If decided
upon by class, consequences for breaking this policy might range from
the loss of participation points to the offender having to present
on a topic of interest to the class. Some instructors allow pagers
and cells to be on the vibrate setting as long as they are attended
to at the break rather than used when it interrupts the class. Instructors
need to abide by this rule as well and allow for at least one mistake
per student as accidents do happen from oversight. The idea here is
to prevent habitual disruption from gum popping and phones ringing.
||This is common
but manageable. Many students are excited and talkative so it might
be good to give them a few class periods to settle in. However, if
itís evident right away that this is a trend, itís best to ask them
to stay after class. You might approach them initially by saying that
you are pleased with the amount of enthusiasm they have for discussion
but were hoping that they have suggestions for getting the other class
members equally involved. The student will most likely get your drift
with minimal humiliation.
Sleeping in class
in class is usually considered rude. Most faculty believe it should
not be tolerated and is best curbed up front by waking a sleeping
student and asking them to step outside with you. Once there faculty
often tell students that itís best for the rest of the class if
they return when they are awake enough to be an active participant.
This occurs from time to time and you obviously are the one to choose
lenience or punitive action. If itís one of your more regularly
involved students, perhaps give them an option of an extra credit
research assignment they can bring to your next class period covering
the subject matter they missed while they were sleeping.
An alternative approach
is to assume that the student does not feel well, was up most of
the night with a sick child, or has some other condition that results
in sleepiness when still for long periods of time. You might simply
choose to wake the student and ask them if they are feeling alright.
To pull this off you need to approach it with true concern for the
student's health and well being. Most of the time, student's are
so embarrased and so appreciative of your genuine concern that they
don't let it happen again.
Encourage students to
actively participate, take notes (explain that this is helpful to
their learning as it stimulates memory in the brain) and in particularly
long classes break up the session with activities or paired conversations
about a topic to ensure that students stay engaged. Students don't
learn much from listening, so remember that the more they "experience"
the learning process the more you are really teaching.
|| There should
be clear parameters set around this issue up front Ė either in your
syllabus or in the class decided norms. Stick to your guns on the
policy. Some fair policies might include 3 tardies equals one absence.
It might be best to discuss
this with students individually; some are habitually late because
they are dependant on bus routes or other drivers for transportation
Refusal to Participate or Speak
force students to speak in class nor participate in group projects.
This can be addressed and become a win-win situation by either giving
the student alternative options to verbal participation (unless itís
a speech class) or simply carefully coaxing some response out of them
and praising whatever minimal effort you receive from them. Remember,
some students are terrified to be in a class setting Ėespecially if
there are round tables rather than desks Ė allowing for little anonymity.
Sexual Innuendo, Flirting, or Other Inappropriate Suggestion
| This behavior
should be curbed as soon as it occurs. Itís never comfortable to tell
a student that they arenít being appropriate and if you are uncomfortable,
a short, positive e-mail or phone call might suffice. Your response
should be not judgmental and you might discuss it with your department
chair or faculty mentor before broaching it with your student.
|| In some cultures,
students work together to produce homework. It may come as a shock
to these students that they cannot submit identical work. This may
also come as a surprise to couples, parent-child, siblings, or close
friends. Be careful to give thought to how you will handle this before
you encounter it and react as if it were intentional cheating. This
can also occur when the class does a great deal of group work. Make
sure you are clear about what is individual vs. group work in your
Plagiarism or Lying
upon the class and the studentís prior knowledge of what plagiarism
entails, some faculty issue an automatic F for the first instance,
then expulsion from the class with a report to the department chair
and division dean on a second instance. Most colleges have specific
policies. Be sure to know you college policy before taking action.
be outlined in your syllabus with a reference for students to the
college catalog for more information.
Too Much Chit Chat
chat times for groups or before class begins let them know that you
have material to be covered and that their talking isnít helping you
achieve your goals for the class. Know too that some students occasionally
translate a word or phrase to a tablemate who might not have as strong
an understanding of English, be patient and observant when curbing
is that sometimes students just plain wonít like you. You will find
yourself in a conversation with yourself about why they donít like
you and treat you with disrespect. Animosity will perpetuate itself
so remember your role and look for a way to positively invite the
student to engage more deeply in the class. Perhaps offer them a special
task based on a self-disclosed talent; for instance, a student whose
hobby is Origami (Japanese paper folding) might lead a lesson on the
art of following instructions.
A few notes on confronting
the behaviors listed above:
Avoid calling a student
to the carpet publicly. This can be humiliating and break down respect
and the sense of a safe environment that students need in the classroom.
Start with a positive statement
if possible: for example, if a student is monopolizing class discussion,
you might start by saying, "Iím really pleased that you take
such an interest in discussions and have a lot to share. But I was
wondering if you might have suggestions to help others get equally
Document incidents that
you feel might continue or are egregious enough to warrant a paper
trail. Keep in mind that your dean will likely suggest you take a
graduated approach: verbal warning, written warning, meeting with
the dean, etc.
Remember that you were
once a student. Think before you act. Take a deep breath if necessary
before saying or doing anything you might later regret.
Setting the Classroom
You may wish to revisit
and reflect upon the importance of the first
day of class. A successful first day and week often contributes
to a semester free of classroom management problems. Setting ground
rules, as discussed in Module 4, can be particularly helpful.
Managing Tempo and Time
you have an early morning, after lunch, or after dinner class time,
you might notice some problems with rhythm and attentiveness. You might
start these classes with brainteasers or wake up exercises that get
students ready to focus. Being aware of circadian rhythm might save
you some frustration in getting used to timing issues with your class.
New instructors often become
surprised by how even the best-laid lesson plans go awry. It is often
the case that students will lead the discussion off topic and
the instructor, pleased to have such lively interaction, will not be
able to bring the class back on track. As mentioned in Making
a Good First Impression, a handy practice is to have key phrases
pre-planned to bring class back to topic such as "time to come
together now, please wrap it up in 2 minutes."
Some classrooms donít have
clocks where faculty can see them, so as is practiced in Toastmasters
(the professional speaking organization) it might be useful to select
a timekeeper whose function it is to notify you when discussion
time is up and transition is needed. I often write a reminder to the
class not to let me get off track or talk past a certain time amount
when we have a good amount of material to be covered or group activities
planned. With this reminder written on the board under the daily
agenda, students arenít as hesitant to let me know that while they are
fascinated by my words, I have exceeded a self-imposed limit.
Taking this a bit further,
the act of student input into the pacing of the class adds to a sense
of empowerment and lessens the sense that they are powerless to mood
or whims of the instructor. Finally, if you have taken the advice to
audio or video tape your instruction but still find that you are
prone to tangents, you might bring a kitchen timer with a
soft bell to keep track of time limits on lecturing or group projects.
This is especially helpful with question and answer times following
student presentations. With limited time allotted to groups or individuals
to present, a timer can serve to maintain the sense of fairness.
Making a Connection Between
Faculty and Students:
Students can feel disconnected
and disoriented in a new class. Returning students might feel self-conscious
about their age and out of place returning to school while younger students
might bring emotional remnants of negative high school experiences with
them to their first college classroom.
Breaking the ice is
essential in establishing this connection. In Planning
for the First Day of Class, you found solid advice
for the first day of class. Some ideas for lessening the tensions that
might exist from lack of familiarity include:
Know your philosophy
regarding education and tell your students what it is. This
can be an enlightening experience for them to realize that you consider
your career to be deeper in meaning beyond merely collecting a paycheck.
Take digital photos
(with permission) of the class to let them know that you value them
and want know their names and faces as soon as possible. Other options
are name tents in on their desk, or practice as a group with name
memory tricks. Harry Lorraine is a memory expert whose video "Memory
Power" teaches name and face recognition tricks. There
is also ample information available on the Internet for getting
students names learned quickly.
Present a visual
depiction of your life such as a Power Point that contains
family photos, pictures of a pet, a mission statement, examples
of artwork, hobbies, short biographical sketch, etc. Allow students
to ask questions within your comfort zone. I have found this to
be a useful introduction to technology in presentations as well
as breaking down student-perceived barriers. See
Share an instance
when you struggled as a student and how you dealt with it.
Share your memories
of your best and your worst instructors when you were a student.
Let them know that you are evolving as an instructor and hope to
develop into one that learns to meet studentís expectations.
Distribute a questionnaire.
I usually distribute a single-page (confidentially and with a clear
statement that the decision to not answer the questions does not
constitute lack of participation) for studentsí e-mail address,
phone number, age, number of children, hobbies, favorite books,
expectations about the class, favorite movies, music, number of
hours worked, special information that would help them succeed in
the class, favorite subject in high school, plan of study, and more.
Answers to the questionnaire are later discussed with the class
in terms of averages and areas of interest. Often students make
connections with each other when they hear commonalties.
Let the students
know what you want them to call you. "Miss," "Mr.,"
"Mrs.," "Ms.," "First Name," "Professor,"
or "Dr." are the choices most commonly agreed upon. Remember,
some students will not feel comfortable being required to call you
by your first name based on cultural background or prior educational
experience, so itís recommended that they are not forced to do so.
Conversely, be aware that some students interpret the informality
of being on a first name basis or the discovery of commonalties
as permission to try to bend boundaries or challenge standards.
There is much to be gained from balancing friendliness with expectations.
Announce your boundaries
for communication. Be it e-mail or talking after class,
let them know what you will and will not accept. Tell students that
you want to have outside of class communications but you need a
certain amount of time for replies and need courtesy in communication.
For example, I give a separate e-mail address to my students than
my home address and let them know that they may not Spam me, add
me to chain e-mail lists, send me unsolicited or unidentified attachments,
nor add me to their instant message buddy lists without prior permission.
Additionally, let them know that you want to be equitable in sharing
your office hours with others students, so they might be asked to
come to office hours with concrete questions or concerns.
Walk your talk:
give students a list of things and behaviors they can expect from
you. If you agree to give assignments back graded within one week,
do so. Avoid contradicting yourself or appearing indecisive. Model
the behaviors you expect of your students.
to form a list of expectations they have for you, the instructor.
This can serve to empower students as well as provide a forum to
discuss what their fears, concerns, expectations, and needs as students
really are. This activity will most likely aid in the classroom
sense of fairness and serve to prevent later challenges to fairness
and or documentation issues by students.
Making Connections: Student-to-Student
Research into student retention
suggests that students drop out of college most frequently citing
lack of connection as the key factor. With this in mind, it is good
practice to pepper the first few classes of the term with connection
building activities. Having established a connection amongst peers,
students will be more likely to contact each other outside of class
for support, ask each other for missed notes, feel safer to offer answers
aloud during discussions, and ask for advice regarding other academic
and personal concerns. One of the most gratifying feelings as a new
faculty was to witness my students staying after class to chat informally.
Some suggestions for fostering
student connectedness are:
Pair off or small groups
of three in which students find answers to questions written on
the board such as "where were you born?," "why are
you taking this class?," "what kind of car do you drive?,"
Scavenger hunts such
as finding one person with 2 kids, one person who has a famous relative,
one person who is born in January, 2 people who have unusual pets,
For more suggestions, you
might consult with your staff development office for books on team building
exercises or search the Internet for "ice breaker" activities.
Helping Students Learn to
Be College Students
Distributing this list of
desirable and undesirable behaviors can serve to avert management issues
in that some students simply do not realize that their behavior is negative
or disruptive to the instructor or to their classmates. The following
table identifies some common positive and negative behaviors that provide
students with a guide for managing themselves as students. You might
wish to distribute this list to your class at the time you discuss your
syllabus or set class norms as a group. Feel free to modify this list
as needed for your students.
on desk, pencil or pens ready
face, nose, grooming, knuckle cracking, nail filing or cleaning
taking or recording the lecture/class with permission from the instructor
sighs, eye rolling
questions that are appropriate
AT the instructor rather than WITH the class
an effort to maintain eye contact
early without letting the instructor know ahead of time
where you can see and be attentive
tardiness or absences
assignments on time, ask if there is supplemental material you can
explore to better complete your assignments such as video titles
or other materials
noises: foot tapping, nail biting, pen twirling/tapping, yawning
w/o covering your mouth, mumbling, zipping up bags to indicate you
want the class to end, paper tearing, paper toy making, etc.
your classmates whenever possible
on desk to indicate boredom
certain you understand assignments when assigned
at the clock or your watch
announcements about necessary absences for before or after class
assignments and/or breaking assignment policy, handing in shoddy,
unstapled, ripped out pages that show no care for the assignment
from doing other course work or paying bills in class
to sexual situations inappropriately in assignments (unless itís
asked for in the assignment such as a human sexuality class)
using the Internet in class, stay on task rather than surfing for
forget text and notebook
the instructor the respect you wish to be treated with
to be class clown inappropriately; a joke here and there is fine,
but repetitious clowning is distracting
interrupt, belittle, or put down fellow students
or face making to show disapproval
an open mind when issues arise you disagree with. Disagreeing with
passing or hand signals to others
certain you pay your fees for enrollment and get your text on the
first day of class
the instructor to ask what you missed when you were absent or if
you missed anything "important"
positive with expectations of success in the course
as if the class or topic of discussion is irrelevant or stupid Ė
if you really feel so, drop the class
the instructorís name and call them only what they prefer to be
called Ė ask if necessary
your belongings where they inconvenience others
the class, instructor, and assignment name correctly on all submitted
in your chair