Disruptive Behavior in the Classroom
It is helpful if you clarify behavioral and other expectations at the beginning of the semester, and reach an agreement with students on standards for classroom conduct.
When establishing guidelines for behavior in your course, it is important that you only articulate the standards you are willing to enforce. You have broad authority to manage your classroom, exercise that authority with compassion and self-restraint. Apply standards fairly and consistently, as students will recognize and resent perceived unfairness.
Describing basic behavioral standards in the course syllabus will assist you in discussing them on the first day of class. Information should specify what behaviors are prohibited, how you will manage behavioral issues, and any consequences that may result. A statement in the course syllabus might read:
“Behavior that persistently or flagrantly interferes with classroom activities is considered disruptive behavior and may be subject to disciplinary action. Such behavior inhibits other students’ ability to learn and an instructor’s ability to teach. A student responsible for disruptive behavior may be asked to leave class pending discussion and resolution of the problem and may be reported to the Office of Student Standards and Accountability.”
When a student is disruptive in class:
Respond immediately. This may mean employing informal action (standing next to students who are talking), reminding the
class of the agreed standards for behavior, or directing a word of warning to the disruptive student. When you respond to a student during class, do so in a professional manner.
If the behavior continues, notify the student that he or she must leave the room if the behavior does not cease 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 the Office of the Dean of Students prior to meeting. If the student refuses to leave, notify him or her that you will call WSU Police and that disciplinary action may result.
It is appropriate to call WSU Police any time 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:
The Office of the Dean of Students recommends having another person present if possible when meeting with the disruptive student following a confrontation or removal from class (TA, colleague, etc.) or leaving the door open in case the situation becomes confrontational. You may wish to request a meeting with a student who has displayed unacceptable behavior even when removal from class has not resulted. In either case, meeting with the student is an opportunity for him or her to understand the inappropriateness of their behavior, and for you to discuss strategies that will enable him or her to continue successfully in your class. Disruptive behavior generally results from other life problems, be ready to recommend additional resources on campus, such as Counseling Services, Health and Wellness Center, or other appropriate services.
In the meeting:
Remain calm. Your reasoned response will assist the student in addressing the behavior in question.
Do not take the student’s remarks personally. Again, disruptive behavior often results from other life problems.
Be specific about the inappropriate behavior that the student exhibited. Describe the behavior; do not focus on the person. Explain why the behavior is problematic and the affect it has on others in the class.
Ask questions and summarize what you hear the student saying. Respectful concern may enable you as the educator to help the student be successful both in your class, and in his or her university experience.
Focus on areas of agreement between you and the student.
Again, recommend additional resources on campus as needed.
Conclude by summarizing any resolution and articulating expectations for the future. Be clear that continued inappropriate behavior will be referred to the Office of Student Conduct.
Following the meeting you should send a summary by email to the student outlining your conversation and agreed upon conduct. Make sure to copy an additional person (your department chair, class TA, etc). This provides written expectations and may be useful for formal adjudicative procedures should the behavior continue.
Outside the classroom
You may encounter threatening, intimidating or harassing behavior by students outside of the classroom. 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 diffuse tension.
Identify a more appropriate place and time to discuss the matter.
Allow the student to regain composure if necessary and again, identify a more appropriate place to discuss the matter.
Explain to the student that you will call the WSU Police if inappropriate behavior persists or if a threat is made.