Managing Classroom Behavior
Faculty and Students
Authored by Stephen J. Akers, Ph.D.,
Executive Associate Dean of Students, 2006
Responding to Conflict and Classroom Behavior
Debate and disagreement are an integral part of higher education in America. Questioning what and why they are taught is healthy and intellectually stimulating for students, and instructors should generally view questions from students as an opportunity for teaching and learning and not as a sign of disrespect. However, faculty members have the right to expect that differences of opinion be expressed in a non-disruptive and respectful manner. The current climate of higher education is such that faculty will inevitably confront issues of classroom misconduct from students.
"Disruptive behavior" in the classroom is defined as
repeated, continuous, or multiple student behaviors that prevent an instructor from teaching and/or prevent students from learning.
Addressing irritating behavior, as distinguished from disruptive conduct, can be deferred more easily until after class, whereas disruptive conduct may substantially impede the class progress and require immediate response. If potentially disruptive behavior is occurring, a general word of caution to the class rather than directed at a particular student may be effective in deterring a problem. When a particular student persists in being potentially disruptive or, in fact, has interfered with a controlled discussion or impeded the educational process of the class, address the problem as early and as privately as possible. To confront the behavior in front of the student's peers may cause the student to feel a greater need to defend the behavior.
When necessary, deal with behavior during class firmly but politely, and direct the student to wait after class to discuss the matter further. On rare occasions, if the disruptive behavior continues, it may be necessary to request the student to leave the class immediately. If the student refuses to leave the class, the instructor has the authority and may choose to adjourn the class for the day. Only if the well being of the instructor or other students is threatened or harm is imminent should the Purdue Police be summoned. This would occur only in rare circumstances. Immediately following class, notify the Office of Student Rights and Responsibilities, giving pertinent information about the student, your observations of the student's behavior, and witnesses to the behavior. You also should notify the course coordinator and/or department head promptly.
The odor of alcohol impurities emitting from a student may lead one to believe the student is intoxicated. This may be more annoying than disruptive. The focus should be on the behavior, whether alcohol-induced or from some other cause, and be treated in a like manner as discussed in this document. Informing the Office of Student Rights and Responsibilities about the alcohol observation is useful in addressing potential problems. Most likely the student is clueless about the social signals being conveyed. The odor of alcohol can linger from consumption the night before the class. Such an odor can be distracting to other students in the vicinity. The Office of Student Rights and Responsibilities would like to be advised of the situation to help take corrective action.
Develop an atmosphere of mutual trust with students by identifying and addressing course expectations and standards early in the semester. Uniform administration of stated expectations and standards then becomes essential because to the extent that instructors stray from standards and expectations or fail to apply them even-handedly, conflict or disagreement is more likely to occur. For example, if one student is allowed to improve a grade through extra assignments, all students should be provided the same opportunity.
Early Prevention and Response Techniques
Staff members in the Office of Student Rights and Responsibilities have been very successful in working with faculty and students to resolve anticipated or actual incidents of classroom disruption. Success has been achieved through one or more of the following means:
- Direct discussion with the classroom instructor, leading to quiet resolution through advice and strategic planning;
- Direct intervention and discussion with the alleged offender, including definition of the problem and potential consequences of no-compliance with official instructions;
- Direct intervention and discussion with both the alleged offender and the classroom instructor;
- Negotiation of a switch in sections of a particular class for the offender, creating a new opportunity for learning under a different instructor and with different classmates;
- Negotiation of a change of class schedule for the offender, with the student's consent (e.g., dropping the course in question and adding another or simply dropping the course);
- Imposition of disciplinary sanctions administered in accordance with the code of conduct promulgated in Part 5, Section III, of University Regulations.
There are many academic and other regulations, such as privacy of educational records, which may often be misunderstood or incorrectly applied. The Office of Student Rights and Responsibilities staff is available to assist in the interpretation of these regulations and to discuss difficult situations with instructors and students. You may stop by the Office of Student Rights and Responsibilities in Schleman Hall, Room B50, or call 765-494-1250.
Bill of Rights
In establishing expectations and standards for courses, it is useful to review the Purdue University Bill of Student Rights, which is a list of guarantees Purdue has promulgated for students. Articles One, Four, and Five are most germane to faculty and student interactions.
Article One: "The student has the right to accurately and plainly stated information that enables the student to understand clearly . . . the course objectives, requirements, and grading policies set by individual instructors for their courses." [Part 5, Section I, University Regulations]
- Develop, and discuss with the class at the beginning of the term, a course syllabus containing information such as testing dates and procedures; grade computations; treatment of assignments; what effect, if any, attendance will have on the course grade; and a statement on the academic dishonesty policy.
- Refer to academic dishonesty brochures online for a more thorough discussion of academic integrity (www.purdue.edu/odos/osrr).
- Thoroughly communicate in writing changes to course policies or expectations.
Article Four: "The student shall be free to discuss and express any view relevant to subject matter presented by the instructor. However, in exercising this freedom, the student shall not interfere with the academic process of the class." [Part 5, Section I, University Regulations]
- Recognize that there is a delicate balance between freedom of expression and interference with rights of other students, especially when life experiences bring strong opinions.
- Include classroom behavior as part of your discussion of expectations and standards, and consider including the topic in your syllabus.
- Be aware that monopolizing discussion, distractive talking with classmates, straying from the topic of discussion, or not respecting the rights of other students to express their view points can lead to class disruption and conflict.
Article Five: "The student's course grade shall be based upon academic performance, and not upon opinions or conduct in matters unrelated to academic standards. The students have the right to discuss and review their academic performance with their instructors. Any student who feels that any course grade has been based upon other than academic performance has the right to appeal through the University Grade Appeals system." [Part 5, Section I, University Regulations]
- Be available for students, use interaction time for straight talk about how they are doing in the course and suggestions for improvement.
- Attempt to resolve grade disputes with a clear and friendly review of how the grade was determined. If unresolved, refer the student to the established grade appeals process located in Part 5, Section III-E, of University Regulations.
- Review and follow the criteria for assigning a grade of "incomplete" in Part 2, Section VII, of University Regulations. The incomplete was not established as a means of avoiding difficult decisions or grade disputes.