a) In the classroom
It is helpful if you clarify behavioral and other expectations at the beginning of a course, and reach agreement with students on standards for classroom conduct. When you are establishing guidelines for behavior in your course, it is important that you only articulate the standards that you are willing to enforce. Apply these standards fairly and consistently. Students will quickly recognize and resent perceived unfairness. Describing basic behavioral standards in the course syllabus will assist you in discussing them the first day of class. Information should specify what behaviors are prohibited, how you will manage behavioral issues, and any consequences that may result. View examples of civility statements faculty members should consider adding to their course syllabus.
When a student is disruptive in class
- Respond immediately. This may mean employing informal action (such as standing next to students who are talking), reminding the class of the agreed standards for behavior, or directing specific comments to the disruptive student.
- If the behavior continues, notify the student that he or she must leave the room if the behavior does not cease immediately, and that disciplinary action may result. If the student does not respond appropriately, ask him or her to leave and arrange to see you during office hours before the next class session. You may wish to consult with Student Conduct and Community Standards prior to that meeting.
- If a student refuses to leave, notify him or her that you will call the Campus Police, and that disciplinary action will result.
- It is appropriate to call Campus Police anytime a disruptive behavior escalates, or when it is reasonable to interpret behavior (including oral statements) as threatening or harassing to you or to other members of the class.
Meeting with the disruptive student
It is generally helpful for you to meet privately with a disruptive student following a confrontation or removal from class. You may wish to request a meeting with a student who has displayed unacceptable behavior even when a confrontation has not resulted. In either case, the meeting is an opportunity for the student to understand the inappropriateness of his or her behavior, and for you to discuss strategies that will enable him or her to continue in the class. You may want to have a third person present, or to leave the door open so that someone in the office can assist you if the situation becomes confrontational.
In the meeting
- Remain calm. This may be difficult if the student is agitated. However, your reasoned response will assist the student in addressing the behavior in question.
- Do not take the student's behavior or remarks personally, even though they may be directed at you. Disruptive behavior generally results from other life problems or general academic frustration.
- Be specific about the inappropriate behavior that the student has exhibited. Describe the behavior; don't focus on the person. Explain why the behavior is problematic.
- Ask questions and summarize what you hear the student saying. Respectful concern may enable you as the educator, to help the student to be successful both in your class, and in his or her general university experience.
- Focus on areas of agreement between you and the student.
- Conclude by summarizing any resolution, and by articulating expectations for the future. Be clear that continued inappropriate behavior will be referred to Student Conduct and Community Standards.
b) Outside the classroom, or in a department or office
You may encounter threatening, intimidating or harassing behavior by students during office meetings, before or after scheduled classes, or in spontaneous encounters on campus. Should this occur, strategies for responding to the student generally are the same as those outlined previously.
- Remain calm, and speak in a controlled manner. This will prevent the situation from escalating and may diffuse the tension.
- Identify a more appropriate place and time to discuss the matter if the problem is occurring outside the normal parameters of professional interaction.
- Use a "time out" to allow the student to regain composure, or explain that if the student cannot maintain composure, you cannot discuss the issue at this time.
- Explain to the student that you will call the Campus Police if inappropriate behavior persists or if a threat is made. Of course, it is important to differentiate between student behavior that is threatening or harassing, and that which is merely uncivil or rude. The latter does not generally warrant the intervention of Campus Police, or other disciplinary action.
Adapted from the University of Southern California's Disruptive & Threatening Student Behavior: Guidelines for Faculty and Staff. Their guidelines can be found at USC Guidelines.