Need strategies for dealing with classroom disruptions
February 6, 2013 10:49 AM   Subscribe

OK wise teachers, can you help me with tips and tricks? Issue: Student talking disruptively.

I am looking for ways to handle this w/o ejecting the student. Maybe factors at issue: kids from tough neighborhood, which is also mine, but our backgrounds are very dissimilar and I probably come off as, I don't know, snooty white lady. This is not one particular student but several. These are jc students. Many of them know each from high school. I've explained the pleasenodisruptivetalking thing ad infinitum. I guess that last thing isn't a factor so much as a so what the fuck do I do now conclusion.

Thanks so much in advance.
posted by angrycat to Education (22 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
JC = Junior College?

In my parts, you're expected to behave like an adult at college, and to get the hell out if you can't.
posted by BrandonW at 10:55 AM on February 6, 2013 [5 favorites]

Consult with your department chair and/or dean as to what disciplinary options are available to you at this point. My instinct is to kick the bums out. They're adults, and you're under no obligation to cater to this kind of bullshit. Unless, of course, your institution says that you are. So ask what your options are and then do what you need to do. I'd be very surprised if anyone had any objection to you ejecting disruptive students from class.

This is not high school. The time for being cut slack because of your background or home situation is over. Act like an adult or GTFO.
posted by valkyryn at 10:57 AM on February 6, 2013 [6 favorites]

Hold one individually after class. Advise them privately that the disruptive behavior has to stop, or you will be forced to eject them. Just them, based on their behavior. Let them know this is their only warning. Follow through on this. Grade accordingly. JC is old enough to act as an adult, and if they cannot, the only way to fix it is to let them suffer the consequences.
posted by davejay at 10:59 AM on February 6, 2013 [2 favorites]

This is not "snooty white lady" vs "inner city underprivileged kid". This is Person in Authority vs. Disruptive Mouthy Student. If the other kids are there to learn, ChattyKid needs to zip it. His/her side talking is disrespectful of you and the others, and is wasting their time in class. Trust me, I sincerely doubt that a teacher of color would let this kid pull this stunt.
One Voice at a time. Set the boundary and hold on to it.
posted by Ideefixe at 11:02 AM on February 6, 2013 [5 favorites]

I've always told persistently disruptive students, "If your conversation is important, please take it to the hallway, and you can come back when you're done."

They're always like, "No, no, sorry, okay, we'll be quiet," and usually that's the end of it.

There was one group I had told it to twice, and third time they started talking, I said, "That's it, I'm not going to continue class until you go out to the hallway. You can come back when you're finished." Then I stood my with my arms folded until they realized I was serious. They slunk out and didn't come back that class period, but they were quiet in subsequent classes.

So it's not kicking them out of class, but just saying, yes, we're all adults and sometimes we have important things to talk about, but we should do it where we are not disturbing others.

I have no advice pertaining specifically to students from a tough neighborhood. These were the snootiest of snooty white kids. :)
posted by BrashTech at 11:12 AM on February 6, 2013 [6 favorites]

This doesn't help your present situation, but can help prevent this sort of behavior in future semesters:

Make class participation a portion of the overall grade. And explain what that entails,

- Attendance
- Contributing productively in class (and the reverse, contributing disruptively)
- Pop quizzes
- Etc.
posted by carsonb at 11:22 AM on February 6, 2013

And being asked to leave a class for being disruptive is a big fat 0 on that part of the report card.
posted by carsonb at 11:23 AM on February 6, 2013 [1 favorite]

Just agreeing with the others: you are not doing anyone in class any favors by permitting this to continue.

My worst class ever as a teacher was a truly horrible section of 10th grade general English in an otherwise good, mixed student body suburban high school: 23 students, 21 of them boys, 17 of them with juvenile records and/or probation officers. They had to be there, but they had almost no reason to cooperate, or expectation to learn or do anything other than screw around. Oh, and the school mandated that I use a teaching assistant who was an additional liability and person to babysit. Fun times, fun times.

The only way I got through it was with a) a dose of humor, b) an acknowledgement of what everyone in the room knew, that the situation sucked for all of us, and c) enough work to keep students engaged in doing something, 100% of the time, with periodic breaks for them to express themselves in controlled ways, alternating with periods of expected silence -- a ratio of maybe 5 minutes of silence to 7-10 minutes of talking, then back to silence. This worked, but man, was it a lot of work to maintain.

But that was high school, not JC. You have the power to rule with an iron fist, and you should do just that, albeit in a friendly way if possible. It is your classroom, and you need to assert yourself as the teacher, and not tolerate this sort of shit. If you want to let students talk, give them a forum to do so (questions, etc., or group work), but keep it limited, and make sure that you are in charge by asserting your control over the time and their use of it. And if you don't like the way a student is acting, ask them to leave. Students want a teacher that runs the class, not one that's run over by the class. They will respect you if you assert yourself (within reason), and the ones that won't play by your rules really need to leave your class.

NB: I left teaching a number of years ago for a career in tech, and I don't regret that one bit. This question reminds me that teaching was a huge mixed bag for me, and required a wide set of skills. If you can teach a group of kids that don't want to be there, you can truly do just about anything with motivating people to complete a task.
posted by mosk at 11:44 AM on February 6, 2013 [2 favorites]

I agree with others who say that if this is indeed Junior College, the time for managing student disruptions by setting seat assignments is past.

How have you explained "don't be disruptive"? As a class-wide "please be considerate," or a focused "hey, you're being a jerk, shut it or leave"?

Some of the high school mentality is probably carrying your class, and probably other classes, too. They, or someone else, is directly paying for them to be in this class. The other students are directly paying to be in that class. Point this out, and tell them you'd like them to participate, but whatever they do, they can't keep others from learning.

Try talking to them directly outside of class, so you're not making an example of them or focusing the class on them.

Whatever you do, you have to be consistent and firm. This is your class, and at the end of the day, it doesn't matter if they show up or not.
posted by filthy light thief at 11:47 AM on February 6, 2013

Respond to mouthy-ness immediately. Don't hear them starting to whisper and then wait for it to get to a more disruptive level before you intervene. Any foolishness on their part and you respond with lightning-fast speed -- even if that response is just popping your head up from what you're doing to give the look of death, snapping and pointing (without looking up or with), or if you're in their vicinity, knocking on their desks loudly while continuing on doing what you were doing. It sounds like they're testing you. You need to show them that you're super serious by never letting them get away with crap in your class. Sometimes this is as simple as just responding swiftly.

If it's not that simple and these kids refuse to give you the respect you deserve as their instructor (your race and gender have nothing to do with why you deserve this respect, btw. So don't even worry about that), then you need to look into removing them from the class. If it is possible to remove them, you need to sit them down individually and explain what the consequences are if there is any more nonsense. Then if there is any more nonsense, kick them out. The kids who remain in the room will not give you trouble because you will have demonstrated the parameters of being a part of that class.

You are not doing anybody any favors -- not yourself, not the problem kids, not the good kids -- by letting bad behavior slide. I hear you saying you don't want to eject the kids, but if other methods fail you are doing everyone a disservice by keeping them in the room.
posted by RingerChopChop at 12:08 PM on February 6, 2013

Response by poster: Thanks guys. Today I was like, 'o shit this is why teachers talk about bursting into tears.' Dealing with confrontation is not my strong suit, and your suggestions here will be like a mighty coat of armor, keeping my sanity safe through the semester!
posted by angrycat at 12:08 PM on February 6, 2013 [4 favorites]

Tell the class that the material you are prevented from covering will absolutely 100% be on the test, and good luck with that.

You may end up with one hold-out who still wants to cut up, but he won't be able to get anyone else to engage with him. You may have to throw him out of class, but if they all know each other someone will probably flat out tell him to shut the hell up.
posted by Lyn Never at 12:41 PM on February 6, 2013

Two things that I do:
1. Very innocently asking "Is there a question? Do you have a question?" Why? Because sometimes they are legitimately talking about something from the class, and students feel very put off by always assuming the worst of them. They pretty much shut up after that (or even better, learn to actually ask questions when they have them!)

2. Explain to them that they are thieves. If they want to waste their time, fine. If they want to waste my time, fine. I still get paid. But under NO conditions are they to waste the time of their classmates (those around them who want to learn). They are stealing the opportunity to learn from someone, and I do not tolerate that. I've actually had a lot of success with that, coupled with the factoid that once you earn/ receive an education, that's something that no one can ever take away from you. For my kids that come from rougher areas, (and same situation, I lived in the community, but I was still "the white lady") it really stuck home to realize that they could have something that no one could ever take away no matter what.
posted by raccoon409 at 2:35 PM on February 6, 2013 [1 favorite]

One bit of advice. Whatever you decide you will say and do, do not make hollow threats. If you are going to "threaten" something, you must follow through. Consistency is key to classroom discipline.
Good luck.
posted by NoraCharles at 2:39 PM on February 6, 2013

Proper escalation of tactics is probably a good idea too. I had a chatty student once, who was actually doing fine in the class themself, but was disrupting their friends and other students sitting nearby. I talked to the student twice outside of class, and it took calling them out on it in class to get the student to finally stop being disruptive. Since it was just one student, that was a fairly easy situation though; I could rely on other students' support, since (a) we had talked about this in setting class expectations at the beginning of the semester, and (b) the students I teach tend to have a fairly ... practical view of their education ("I'm paying lots of money for this degree" - it has it's downsides, but also it's upsides).

I'd definitely talk to your department head and/or colleagues for advice and backup though. If the students end up going to the department head complaining that you kicked them out of class, you want the department head to check their names against the list you gave and go, "Yes, I understand you've been quite disruptive. That's inconsiderate both to your professor and to your fellow students. Let's talk about expectations for now that you're at college." (And your department head will probably appreciate the advance warning that irate students might possibly stop by, even if they end up not doing so.)
posted by eviemath at 5:00 PM on February 6, 2013

Hmm, it's a bit odd that junior college age students would be wasting their own time with disrespectful behavior. On the plus side, it makes it easier to just get real with him the class and say something to the effect of, "Look, you are paying to be here. You are wasting your time and everyone else's time by talking over me. Stop or please leave." I'd echo that it's not a snooty white versus underprivileged thing. I read some literature about good white teachers of students of color, as identified by POC parents. Basically, the white teachers the POC parents liked didn't put up with bull shit (pardon language) and were pretty tough with their children. In many POC communities, hassling your child to the effect that they have no choice but to work hard and be successful whether they feel like it or not is how you express love. By letting him get away with talking over you, you may be sending him the message that you don't care about him enough to hold his feet to the fire.

I'd try to add some force to "please stop talking over me," maybe by taking out the please. It needs to be an expectation that's followed without you asking nicely.

This is all much easily said than done, but in my experience (I teach first grade, not jc so it's different), go in with an attitude of "don't tolerate b.s." and when someone does something disrespectful or tries to test the waters, respond decisively by either staring at them or telling them point blank that they are wasting your time. There's something to the staring thing. My 2nd grade supervising teacher during student teaching once told me something to the effect that sustained eye contact is how animals establish dominance in the wild, and if you stare at a child long enough, it's just in their DNA to sort of fold their cards. It sounds crude, but it's really true and useful to pull out when a student is intentionally exploring where your limits are.
posted by mermily at 6:02 PM on February 6, 2013

Not exactly the same, but I was teaching an SAT class to a room full of 16 year olds a few years ago, and one kid in the room would not stop talking. I started by asking him to be quiet. No effect. I suggested that he leave if he didn't want to be there. No effect. I then warned him that if he didn't stop I'd eject him from the class, and refund whatever was left of his tuition to his parents. No effect. So I kicked his ass out. The class experience improved for everyone, including me.

These are adults. They should know better. They are stealing money and time from their classmates. There is no excuse for such poor behavior. Kick them out and have them deregistered from the class.
posted by 1adam12 at 6:41 PM on February 6, 2013

Definitely try either the "is there a question?' or "please save your questions for a few minutes and I'll get back to them."

I also like the low-key "gentlemen/ladies, take it outside please." This is what separates adult classes from high school. (I taught corporate-type trade-specific-skills courses.) They are OPTIONAL, and people are paying for them. Class is boring today? Ok. I'm not making you be here.

I always had best results when my class introduction included something to the effect of "This isn't high school anymore. I know you're adults, and sometimes adults have emergencies or other priorities. As an adult, you don't need my permission to take a phone call or something like that, but I DO need you to step outside. You can come back in when you are ready to continue."

That way the reminder later to step outside with the conversation is just that, a reminder, not a challenge or an accusation of being a bad person.
posted by ctmf at 7:06 PM on February 6, 2013 [1 favorite]

However; when you actually need to put someone on the spot about it, rather than calling them out directly, just address the next regularly scheduled question on the material to them. Best if it's some sort of thought-provoking question with no One True Right Answer. Have them elaborate on their answer a little bit.

They know why you did it, and everyone else does too. But the trick works because it's not just embarrassing for them, it actually forces them to engage a little bit (which is why a short-answer factual question doesn't work as well.) The root cause of them talking amongst themselves is that they are not engaged with the material you are presenting. Take away the root cause and the symptom goes away.
posted by ctmf at 7:16 PM on February 6, 2013 [1 favorite]

(I sprinkle those kind of questions into my plans anyway, so it's just as easy to address them to the ones I think are losing focus.)
posted by ctmf at 7:19 PM on February 6, 2013

Do they sit in the back? One approach told to me by a fellow teacher is to let the class know that their choice of seats is a privilege not a right and they can be moved if they are disruptive. Then if they continue, tell the one you catch talking that they need to come sit up in the front row or leave class.

(At our school, teachers can do this, but if you are not sure, you might want to clear it with your boss or the administration before you try this.)
posted by artdesk at 8:32 AM on February 7, 2013

Late to the party, but: bring three post it notes to class, with 1 , 2, and 3 written on them. When student does something inappropriate, give him post it note 1 and tell him if you hand out the third one to him, he will have to leave. Follow through. Keep doing this each class until the behavior hopefully stops.
posted by wittgenstein at 1:41 PM on February 7, 2013

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