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Dealing with Disruptive Students

by Alyson Bostwick

Good teaching is one-fourth preparation and three-fourths theater. -Gail Godwin

In my teaching experience, I have encountered at least one instance of disruptive behavior in the classroom every single semester. Many times these are innocent acts of frustrated, immature, or troubled students. Some students are simply unfamiliar with the standards of conduct and don't know how to act in a college classroom. Others have inadequate coping skills and take their frustration out on their classmates and/or their instructor. Your job as an educator is to provide a safe and effective learning environment for everyone. If the behavior of one student threatens that safety and effectiveness for you or your students, you need to take action. Often a simple reminder to the offending student will suffice. However, there are times when more serious action is called for. Guidelines for Handling Disruptive Student Behavior

In the following materials you will find guidelines for handling disruptive student behavior. In it you will find answers to:

  • What is disruptive behavior?
  • What action should you take if you encounter disruptive behavior?
  • How should you report an incident of disruptive behavior? Who should you call?
  • What happens after a disruptive incident is reported?

What is disruptive behavior?

Disruptive behavior can include, but is not limited to, the following:

  • Verbal abuse
  • Physical abuse or threats
  • Willful damage to personal or college property
  • Use of drugs and alcohol on college premises
  • Inordinate demands for time and attention
  • Harassment
  • Disruption of a classroom, administrative or campus activity

The disruptive student is one who, through his/her behavior or attitude, interferes with academic or administrative activity on campus.
Disciplinary action is taken on the basis of explicit behavior or attitude which is in violation of the Standards of Student Conduct, regardless of the cause.

What action should you take if you encounter disruptive behavior?

Disruptions which are minor annoyances and non-threatening are expected to cease upon the first request. Repeated behavior will be handled according to the guidelines set forth in your college's Standards of Student Conduct. Note: These guidelines are applicable to the classroom or to any administrative or campus-related activity.

Inform the disruptive student:

  1. of the appropriate standard of behavior
  2. that the disruptive behavior will not be tolerated because it is interfering with the educational process or functioning of a campus activity or depriving others of the right to learn, the right to service, and/or the right to feel safe
  3. that he or she will be reported to the Dean of Educational Programs if the behavior continues. This verbal notice must be followed up in writing with a copy given to the student at the next class meeting.
If the behavior continues:
  1. You have the right to ask the student to leave your class for the day of removal and the next class meeting.
  2. If the student refuses to vacate the premises, call Security for assistance 
  3. Look up appropriate action in the Standards of Student Conduct

Student conduct templates are available at this site.

It is important that incidents of disruptive behavior be reported so that the college can monitor and utilize appropriate intervention to minimize the occurrences of disruptive behavior. When referring or reporting disruptive behavior, be specific, concise and describe observable behavior. Avoid evaluate diagnosis. All verbal reports must be followed up in writing. Referrals should be accompanied by a Student Referral Form available from the Counseling Office, and the Dean of Educational Programs.

Take Heart! Dealing with behavior problems is part of our job. Fortunately, it is a very (very, very) small part. Just keep in mind that perhaps the worst thing to do is to 'ignore it until it goes away'. It rarely does!


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