How do I deal with a disruptive student?

“First I see if there’s something I can compliment the student on – a good question or idea, to disarm their aggression. And most of the time I think a student is being disruptive to gain my attention because the student feels neglected in the world. I also think that many young men think that being disruptive will help them gain the approval of their classmates. So what I try to do is say something like, ‘you know, when I first thought of this idea, it also infuriated me, too… until I realized that….. so what do you think of….?’  But if a student becomes nasty, then I say, ‘ok, I see that you’re getting upset, so let’s talk about it after class.’ Then I quickly move on, and try to not appear flustered.”


“It depends on what the student is doing.  If someone is chatting, reading the newspaper (or whatever), or texting, I call them out in front of the whole class and kind of jokingly say that because I have the attention span of a gnat, I cannot tolerate their distracting behavior.  The subtext is clear, though: I won’t teach if they’re going to be disrespectful.  If the disruption is something else—something weird or truly disturbing—tell someone immediately, e.g., your GTA advisor, the Comp Director, the Department Head.  Always err on the side of caution when it comes to disturbing behavior.  That also goes for harassing kinds of behavior.”


“Humor works in 90% of the cases I have dealt with.  That or talking to them privately after class.”


“Depends on the moment, the nature of the disruption, and much much more.

“It is always best, however, to be direct. If a student is really disrupting the class, call that student on it. If it continues, then contact the Coordinator of GTA Education because individual cases call for individual solutions.”


“‘Would you mind staying after class today.  I have some things I need to speak with you about.’  Do NOT get into it in a public setting.  When the student stays afterward, invoke him or her as an ally.  ‘I need your help.  I don’t expect that this is your favorite thing to do — it’s not mine either, trust me — but we all have work we need to accomplish here, and when you _____, it really gets in the way . . . ‘”

“Ask to speak to the student after class or in your office.  Tell the student that you cannot run a class with him/her behaving that way.  Ask if there is some problem that can be resolved.  If the student does not have a specific concern, tell him/her that the behavior must stop, or the student will need to drop the class.  Tell him/her that the behavior is poisoning the class for other students, and you cannot tolerate that behavior.  It is not fair to all of the others.  If the student has some issues that indicate he/she needs help from the counseling center, offer to call and make an appointment.  I once asked a student why she was so brooding and unsmiling and unhappy in class.  I told her the other students seemed afraid to be happy with her looking that way.  She was completely surprised and just said ‘I just don’t generally smile!’ and after that, she cut out the drama and bucked up a little—enough to stop scaring the others.”

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