"An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure."
Be proactive and define your expectations before anyone has a chance to get the class started on the wrong foot. Consider starting each class with a brief reminder or alternatively give the class and members kudos for making the last class one that encouraged learning. Think of and present your syllabus as a contract between you and your students and review the whole syllabus the first class. If you change your syllabus, make sure you let the students know so your actions aren't experienced as arbitrary.
If you don't want students to be late, model being on time. Show students how to disagree respectfully. Maintain inclusive attitudes and use civil language and be careful not to inadvertently provoke a cycle of disrespect by debasing or invalidating a student or by making him/her the brunt of a joke.
Try not to take a student's challenges as personal and it will be easier to respond non-defensively. If a student offers disparaging comments about a reading, assignment or your class in general, acknowledge his/her disappointment. Consider reframing students’ comments to be demonstrations of their commitment to learning information that is personally meaningful. Sometimes the act of empathizing with disappointment is enough to derail a potential ongoing challenge to your teaching. At times, students are uncivil because they are stressed and lack the skills to do the work that is assigned. Ask them to stay after class and see if you can determine if this is the problem and if you can refer them for extra academic help or counseling.
Feeling like you can handle a student's behavior helps you project confidence which reduces the number of challenges to your teaching. What would be on your list? Students who: pack up early, surf the net during class, ask problematic questions, arrive late, have a cell phone ring during class, interrupt others, correct you, monopolize class discussions, are hostile to other points of view, etc.
Acknowledge students when possible by name. Anonymity in a classroom makes students feel less connected and more likely to be disrespectful. If a student triggers a red flag, try and get to know the student. Call the student by his or her name, and encourage the student.
Students need to learn how to tolerate other points of view while also expressing disagreement. If you know that a class discussion could go into dangerous or highly conflictual territory, talk to your students about the difficulties they may encounter when someone disagrees with them and how to talk about difficult things in a courteous way. You might want to ask the students how they think it would best work to keep the discourse civil but real.
You can be friendly with your students, but your role is one of authority and is different than a friend. Sometimes a student might need this to be clarified. If you are concerned about how to best deal with boundary issues, consider seeking a consultation with a colleague or with someone in the Counseling and Career Center. Some students who are struggling with a personality disorder have learned very ineffective ways of getting their needs met and which can leave others feeling exhausted and perplexed on how to help. The best strategy is to establish firm and professional boundaries and let a professional counselor help with a referral for longer term counseling in the community.
Trust your instincts. If you suspect someone may be dangerous or become violent, make a report or call 911. Common signs of impending violent behavior include: a fixed stare, visibly tense muscles in the face, arms, or hands, red face, difficulty breathing, a loud voice or standing too close.
If you feel yourself getting tense in reaction to a student's behavior, take a deep breath and try and calm yourself before you do or say anything. Speak quietly and calmly. Listen to the other person without interrupting. Try to get some distance between you and the other person - at least 2-3 feet. Make good eye contact and be aware of any emotions you might be conveying through your facial expressions. Try to appear calm, neutral, and interested.
This is a hard call sometimes. You want to avoid an audience which can make it harder for some people to back down, but you also want to communicate to the rest of the class that you have things under control and you're not afraid of dealing with problem behaviors. Sometimes you might want to address inappropriate behavior with a reminder of your expectations as stated in the syllabus. Other times you might use humor to address a problematic behavior. Give the other person an exit. Don't back them into a corner where they are likely to get more verbally aggressive. Redirect the discussion to a more cooperative approach and avoid power struggles. If it looks like a pattern is developing, ask to speak to the student after class and convey your concerns. Seek advice from your assistant dean, colleagues, and the counselors in the Counseling and Career Center.
Empathy and concern for each other is one way of reducing classroom behavior problems. For some students, they have no one to talk to about problems they might be experiencing. You are the front line and are the first to be in a position to notice when a student is in trouble. Once you have expressed concern, if they are receptive to talking, walk them over to the Counseling and Career Center to set up an appointment or call with them in your office, or give them the number and location.
If a student confides in you that he or she is being stalked or threatened by another student, take it seriously and accompany the student to the Counseling and Career Center. If you receive a paper and believe there are implied or direct threats, ask to speak with the student privately for clarification (if you feel safe doing so) and then seek consultation with the counseling staff or human resources office. Remind students that they have the option to report crimes on campus anonymously using JCC’s Silent Witness Program .
You can tell them you will be discreet, but if anyone is in danger you will need to make sure that all parties are safe.