Questions from Faculty and Answers

Q: I know my syllabus isn't as specific as it could be about my expectations regarding classroom behavior, but there's this one student who, from the first class, has made sarcastic comments about my teaching style and the other students have started to have side conversations about his comments. I feel utterly alone and defeated. What can I do now to address this student's behavior?

A: It is required that faculty include in their syllabi the following: civility statement, student responsibility statement, and information about academic integrity. You might also consider telling a story about this type of situation. Explain how it was unproductive for the student, you the instructor, and the rest of the students who were disrupted by a student's grousing. When you see students disagreeing on an issue without being disrespectful with one another, bring this example of civility to the attention to the others in the class - "Well done! A disagreement and no unpleasantness and good discussion!”  Often a student's non-direct complaints about a faculty member’s teaching or assignments may really be an expression of not feeling they can do the work. The student may also be confused and overwhelmed by the coursework. If you think this might be the case, talk to the student after class and note that they seem to be having some difficulty in class and ask them if they need help with something.

Q: There was a student in my class last semester that was clearly having some personal problems. He started off the semester well, but then started coming to class late, sometimes in what looked like pajamas and - just kind of unkempt looking. The last week of classes another student said something during a group project and this student looked agitated, stood up and started pacing and muttering to himself. I went over to the student to try and figure out what was going on and the student was very agitated. I tried to calm him down and suggested he sit down or come talk to me outside the classroom. He threw his books down on the floor and the other students looked scared. The student picked up his books and left. It was our last class and I never saw him again. What do you make of this behavior and what could I have done?

A: It's hard to say what might have been going on with the student. He may have been extremely stressed, depressed, or even possibly psychotic. His behavior was concerning but also potentially dangerous. Letting him leave unimpeded was probably a good idea. Following up after class with a BIT referral, even though it was the last day, would have been advisable too. However, if you had talked to him when you first noticed some changes in his behavior, it would have been a good thing to discuss with him your observations and concerns and suggest he talk to someone in the Counseling and Career Center. Of course, not everyone follows through with these suggestions, but he may have. If he did not follow through with the suggestion and you continued to see concerning behavior, a BIT referral would be the next step.

Q: I have a female student in my class who is very disruptive, but unintentionally so, I believe. She sits in the front of the class and picks her nose. She seems oblivious to the other students who imitate her and laugh whenever she talks. It doesn't help that she has an odd voice - very loud and high pitched and she often asks questions that most people would consider kind of common-sensical. She also has a tendency to indiscriminately share extremely personal information during class discussions. I don't want to embarrass her, but at the same time I'd like her to know that what she is doing is outside normal behavior. It is creating a distraction for other students, which make it harder to teach.

A: This is an increasingly common problem - seeing students in the classroom who may have the intellectual capacity to do well in school, but because of severe deficits in social skills, have a great deal of difficulty fitting in with peers and/or otherwise appropriate classroom behavior. Without knowing if the student has had a formal diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Disorder or some other mental health diagnosis, it is hard to know exactly what to suggest specifically. In a situation where a student is being targeted or made fun of because of their odd mannerisms or behavior, your best bet is to take the student aside after class and offer your concern that she may, through her personal disclosures, be creating distractions to the other students. Approach the student with empathy. The student may be extremely aware they do not fit but very confused as to why or how to "be" like everybody else. This would be a good opportunity to consult with the Accessibility Services office. They might be able to give you additional ideas about how to manage a student who may have a neuro-biological disorder like Autism Spectrum Disorder.

Q: I have a student who regularly falls asleep during class and that is concerning.  What do you suggest?

A: There are natural consequences to our actions. If a student sleeps in class they will miss lectures, assignments, and nuances that might help them do well in the course. A sleeping student might be a student who has partied, or worked the night before but dragged him/herself to class only to fall asleep. The student might also be sick but didn't want to miss class. Or, the student seems to be demonstrating their belief that what the instructor says is so boring as to cause a person to nod and fall asleep. All of them will have consequences. If it is a pattern that a student comes to class and falls asleep, you might inquire if they are getting enough sleep, and if not, suggest they work on a better schedule that will mean they don't fall asleep in your class.

Q: I have twice had students who were in crisis, post-daytime hours. Both demonstrated suicidal ideation, one ten minutes before my 6 p.m. class, the other much later than that. What can I do about these problems after-hours?

A: JCC 's Counseling and Career Center is open Monday-Friday 8:30 a.m.-5 p.m., which means that if a student is experiencing a crisis after 5 p.m., call the local police (911), to come to your classroom. 

On the Jamestown Campus you can also call 1.800.724.0461 to request the assistance of a mental health mobile crisis unit.

If the student retracts and insists he/she WON'T kill him/herself, parents/families CAN be called. There is no confidentiality when dealing with a potential threat to life/safety. If you believe that family should be called, please contact the vice president of student development and chief diversity officer, Eileen Goodling. Eileen will make the contact with the family as appropriate.

Q: I have a student who appears to be having personal problems. The student lets me know what's going on, but expects me to be able to keep them in class through e-mail communications. I feel badly for the student, but I cannot afford to spend an hour a day on e-mails when they aren't making it to my class. Any suggestions?

A: The expectation of attendance is one that can be clearly articulated in the syllabus. There are times when personal or health crises will prevent attendance. It is the instructors' decision whether or not they can accommodate the needs of the individual, and the instructor needs to communicate this clearly. Sometimes students will need to withdraw, or accept that they cannot pass if they cannot attend. The instructor can communicate empathy while explaining the options available. Sometimes the personal concerns are financial, relational, etc. and a referral to the Counseling and Career Center can help the student deal with their personal issues and succeed academically.

Additional Resources

Resources are available to JCC faculty regarding effective management of disruptive student behaviors in the classroom.  Please be familiar with the JCC Civility Statement and regulations/processes regarding Academic Integrity and Student Conduct.  Of course, your academic director and/or dean are available to assist and additional classroom management ideas are available in the JCC document repository.  

What are three things an instructor can do to reduce the incidence of disruptive behaviors in their classroom?

Below are three primary suggestions for faculty members to reduce the incidence of disruptive behaviors in the classroom.

  1. Be proactive: Remember the expression, “head ‘em off at the pass”? That’s exactly what you want to do; address these issues ahead of time so that students do not choose to go down this path. How? Invest time the first week of class to create a positive, learner-centered environment. Discuss the Civility Statement and Student Responsibility statement. Share your commitment to creating a classroom environment conducive to learning. Create a classroom constitution and have students sign it. Have students complete index cards with information about their long term and short term goals, background experience, and concerns about your class. The more you know about your students, the better able you will be to deal with classroom issues.
  2. Be vigilant: Monitor the first class sessions and identify students who may have difficulty. Offer to meet with these students to discuss their goals for the class and ways you can help them be more successful. If your first conversation is about helping them succeed, you are less likely to create a power struggle with students. Use the information on the students’ index cards (see above) to let them know that you are interested in their success.
  3. Respond to disruptive behavior immediately: The two responses that are most ineffective are ignoring a problem and creating confrontation. Confronting a problem in a non-confrontational way sounds oxymoronic, but there are ways to reach out to students immediately without putting them on the defensive (which only increases their negative response). Let students know that their behavior does not comply with the college’s Civility Statement, and discuss likely outcomes should this behavior continue. Begin with the negative impact on students’ own learning/success, but also underscore your responsibility to the entire class to ensure they have the opportunity to maximize learning in the classroom. Create a contract and have the student sign it. Make a note of this conversation and follow up with an e-mail to the student about the conversation. Communicate your assumption that the behavior will not be repeated and your desire to see the student succeed in the class and at JCC.
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