Help me survive my students
April 3, 2018 4:48 AM   Subscribe

I'm teaching a required community college course that unfortunately has a few students who are behavioral problems. I would like some tips on maintaining my cool when young people greatly skilled in the art of aggravation have me on their radar.

So I have a bit of experience teaching and it's been like a year or more since I've had any disciplinary problems that have caused me any bother whatsoever. This class, man. I don't know how/why/when, but about four of them have decided to be skillfully dreadful.

Yesterday, for the first time in quite a few years, I really felt like these guys were wearing me down to the point where I wanted to flee and never return. And it becomes this self-defeating thing, where the more frustrated I become the more provocative they become.

So I'm looking for tips for maintaining passivity even when somebody is being a shit to you. I am disciplining said shit, but it really is not the funnest part of my existence, and I know that my being unhappy about it is fueling more shit.

So, teachers, drill sergeants, tips?
posted by IwishIwasFordMaddoxFord to Education (29 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Sorry that should be *impassivity*
posted by IwishIwasFordMaddoxFord at 4:49 AM on April 3, 2018

It's college, they're adults, kick them out. Their lesson learned. I say that as a former community college student.
posted by LoveHam at 4:52 AM on April 3, 2018 [62 favorites]

Yeah, this is time to learn how to act like an adult in a professional setting. If they are acting poorly they get the boot. Maybe a warning first, but that’s being generous.
posted by raccoon409 at 4:56 AM on April 3, 2018 [4 favorites]

There are two direct options: accountability through student conduct measures as what they are doing can be disruptive to the learning environment, or look at what faculty support or development has on offer for these behaviors, particularly if you are teaching content that would be subject to a flame war on the internet (social inequality, etc). Conduct will remind them that they participate in a reasonable manner. Disagreement is OK, but dominating a class discussion and personal attacks are not.
posted by childofTethys at 5:11 AM on April 3, 2018 [1 favorite]

What kinds of tactics are they using? We all know that there are ways of being truly shitty to someone that are hard to articulate in a way that would justify ejecting someone from a class. Skilled bullies are really good at walking that line of plausible deniability. Your options may differ depending on exactly what is happening. Can you give a representative example?
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 5:20 AM on April 3, 2018 [4 favorites]

I solved this once with the threat of kicking them out, adding that I’d call security if they wouldn’t leave. But yeah, this is college. You don’t have to put up with it. And it’s not just hard for you; it’s not fair to the other students.

You might want to make sure your department has your back first though.
posted by FencingGal at 5:21 AM on April 3, 2018 [14 favorites]

While it’s not much solace, you are teaching the class, beyond the subject, about what being a professional looks like, without lowering yourself to their standards. You are maintaining an effective learning environment, and can ask them to leave if they compromise that. The students in you class are paying for the content of the course, not misbehavior that disrupts delivery.

Check in with a trusted mentor or the upper faculty ranks. They’ve seen a lot and can help with blowing off steam.
posted by childofTethys at 5:34 AM on April 3, 2018 [1 favorite]

I teach college. My spouse teaches middle school. One of the main things I appreciate about teaching college is that I’m not required to put up with behavior-based bullshit. Kick them out (perhaps with a warning first if you’re feeling generous).
posted by Betelgeuse at 5:47 AM on April 3, 2018 [2 favorites]

I wish there were more info in your question. First, I would check with your department head or the school administration. There is likely policy on this, perhaps a student agreement. I think you first need to know what kind of support you have in the infrastructure of the college. You also need to know whether you are allowed to kick them out of class or discipline them for nonparticipation or negative participation before you take any action. Figure out what the recommended mitigation steps are. Your school may have something like academic mediation which can facilitate a structured discussion between you and the students.

Second, do you have anything in your syllabus or grading statement that can back you up? If class participation, for instance, is a portion of the grade, you could issue a warning that they are on the verge of not receiving credit for it because their classroom behavior is negatively contributing.

Third, yes, do check with senior faculty who may have specific ideas and resources. Keep in mind, though, that classroom management is highly individual and what works for one professor may not work for you.

Finally, no matter what, the students need to know that you need to see a behavior correction. If they are getting to you, I am sure they are driving more serious students crazy. You owe it to them to speak to them individually. Just get a sense what the school's protocols for handling these problems are, and do that before you act, so you don't put yourself at any kind of risk of being accused of harassing students.
posted by Miko at 5:52 AM on April 3, 2018 [9 favorites]

Regarding impassivity:
I would say that your instincts are correct in terms of this being a goal under these circumstances.

What I have done, which I think helps, in similar cases is keep my conscious focus on the other students in the room. At least some of them are as frustrated as you are with this; probably all of them. If you can salvage their educational experience, the outcome of this course will not be completely tainted for you.

That said, I would also agree with the consensus here that the Behavior Guys not be permitted to continue whatever it is they're doing; your college has some sort of conduct policy, and an administrative person who can help you determine what your next step should be. The first thing that admin will probably say is "address this with the problem students" if you haven't already done so, but he/she may provide guidance in how to do that.

And definitely talk to other faculty. I've seen young college teachers driven out of the profession by shitty young men, and I hate to see that. Don't isolate yourself!
posted by CheesesOfBrazil at 5:52 AM on April 3, 2018

>This sounds hellish. I feel bad for the other students.

You'll have to follow your schools procedures on this. I assume there is a policy. If so document the leaders and kick them out. See if the others calm down. Repeat.
posted by charlielxxv at 6:01 AM on April 3, 2018

Thanks guys.
Example of behavior issues. Students are working quietly and one of the offenders bellows:
Me: Yes?
O: If I pay for somebody else to write my paper, is it plagiarism?
Me. [thinking WTF] Yes.
Me. Because it's not your work.
Me: [Grimly] We can talk more about this after class if you like
Other offender: HA HA HA HA HA [Starts SINGING as she leans faaaar back from her desk to I guess indicate that she's not writing or something]

Yeah, I am disciplining folks but some of this shit is just shit they are throwing at me to watch the WTF bloom on my face and I can't really see, in that example, how I kick the kid out for asking a question about plagiarism, even though I'm %100 sure he's doing it just to fuck with me.

I think focusing on the other students, as CheeseofBrazil noted, is good advice. Ten out of the fourteen are there to learn so I'll focus my energies on the ten.

Thanks guys.
posted by IwishIwasFordMaddoxFord at 6:10 AM on April 3, 2018 [3 favorites]

With your update: if this is during a segment of the class where people are working on their own, you can ask someone who's singing to leave the room. Yes, touch base with senior faculty first.

I haven't taught in a classroom where considerable amounts of time were devoted to people sitting and working on their own-- outside of tests and quizzes of course. And labs, of course, but I don't get the sense this is a lab. This seems like a hard situation; it hands disruptive people a golden opportunity and it makes it much worse for people who are trying to work. Kick them out or find a way to reduce time that is not lecture or discussion. If they are interrupting during a discussion or lecture it's a lot easier to turn it around. I used to pause for a second and laugh, like "Oh, good one." And then move on.
posted by BibiRose at 6:25 AM on April 3, 2018

I can't really see, in that example, how I kick the kid out for asking a question about plagiarism

You've described the incident very clearly. No one here would interpret that as just "a question about plagiarism." The kid interrupted a quiet writing session to ask a disingenuous question and argue with you. That kind of record would support your disciplinary actions. (I'm not an educator; this is subject to your school policies too.)
posted by JimN2TAW at 6:32 AM on April 3, 2018 [9 favorites]

If you can't get them kicked out, the Gentle Art of Verbal Self Defense and The Gentle Art of Verbal Self Defense at Work will help you to stay non-reactive, ignore their attempts at getting that "WTF" reaction out of you, and redirect the conversation back to productive, relevant discussion.
posted by jazzbaby at 6:58 AM on April 3, 2018 [2 favorites]

I have taught college students full time for eleven years now. At both of the institutions I have taught at there has been a high proportion of community college students, so I am familiar with the population. In my experience, cc students are my better students because they are usually more serious, but there is surely some self-selection going on as those are the ones who have the ability to complete cc classes and then transfer.

I would suggest a few things... as others said, get a feel for your department culture regarding discipline and disruptions. I have really only had two students who really pushed my buttons and both of them were surly males who refused to participate in anything and maintained a constant glowering scorn for everyone. I myself am a cis-het male, so I got less crap from them than my female colleagues, but still... they were the only two students in eleven years I wanted out of my class. BUT, I have always had a sense of where those boundaries are and under what grounds I could ask someone to leave.

So, anyway, one of the earliest lectures I give students when I feel they aren't committing a reasonable level of effort to the class is about who the class is for, and who they are working for... I tell them not to do anything to get a grade from me. I will grade them, yes, but if they only do stuff for me, they are wasting their time. They need to be doing work for themselves. They need to think about how they are going to use the information I give them to go further in life or their career. I do try to make those connections explicit for them all the time, so I can point to the phenomenon I am talking about. The goal in my speech is to get them to take ownership in a positive way over what we are doing.

On the flip side, I also tell them that I am holding all the cards. I am a very agreeable person, and I don't set up my classroom as a debate space, but I tell them that if they come to the class to fight with me they are also wasting their time, because I have no interest in fighting with them. I already have a long professional record and an advanced degree in the field I teach in, so what is the point in engaging with arguments with students, or anyone else? I know what I know, I am here to offer that knowledge to students and they have to decide how to use it. Again, I back this up by being a very hands-on teacher, but I make it clear that arguing over stuff is a waste of time.

Even setting all of that aside, I find it best to let a student's argument play out for awhile. Most of the time, they will sense peer pressure from other students which is usually much more likely to make them give up. If I may, I would like to offer some alternative lines of discussion I would suggest the next time this happens. You should be able to use this same tactic with different topics the students bring up.


Me: Yes?

O: If I pay for somebody else to write my paper, is it plagiarism?

Me. [Upbeat and cheerful, turning to other students] Interesting question. Can anyone else recall the college policy on plagiarism? If you have someone else do the work or copy someone else's work, is that plagiarism?

Other students [probably the oldest student or someone who is taking things very seriously]: Yes, it is.


Me: [Upbeat and cheerful again]: Well, we don't want to spend too much time on this because we are talking about [Y], but can someone say why paying someone else to write your paper is plagiarism? [It is worth taking some time occasionally to really spell out ethics to students]

Other students [at this point in my experience the other students are subconsciously making it clear to the disruptor that she or he is an outsider and disruptor and people at this age tend to hate that]: Because [Z].


Me: [Still upbeat or neutral] This is the last thing we are going to say on this topic, but if you have evidence that someone is plagiarizing and want to present that to me privately, please see me after class and I will consider it on its merits. Be warned that if you are falsely accusing someone of plagiarism then you may suffer the same punishment, which is expulsion. I'd hate to see that happen, so let's address this later when we can really focus on it.

[At this point, it seems that all the other students have to be really hating this person, and in my eleven years of experience the student would have shut up by now]

Other offender: HA HA HA HA HA [Starts SINGING as she leans faaaar back from her desk to I guess indicate that she's not writing or something]

Me: Are you implying that you have plagiarized work for this class? I hate to think that has happened, because you will be expelled. More importantly, who are you going to pay to do your work when you graduate?

[Here the conversation might split in a lot of directions...]

You put "Grim" in your stage directions. I would strongly suggest that you do not do that. That is exactly what the disruptors want. They want to tell their friends later that they "got you," and they will make a huge exaggerating story to that effect. This is why I tell my students that I don't care about arguing with them, to take the wind out of those sails.

I want to conclude by saying that it is okay for classes to stop sometimes and discuss process or ethics... A class shouldn't be an endless march through course content. Students want to know that you care about process and ethics, in fact, and you can use these disruptions to show that. Let the students who are disruptive know that you care, too. Catch them one-on-one when they have no one to show off for and flip the script. With one of my two students I mentioned above, I took him aside and said "Look, you seem to hate everything we do in here and you think you're smarter than the other students, so tell me what you want to do. I won't make you do any of the rest of the assignments. Propose to me what you think is a challenging assignment and we'll see if you can do it." He was flabbergasted. I wouldn't say he turned nice, but he was way less cocky from there on out.

Good luck!
posted by Slothrop at 7:00 AM on April 3, 2018 [31 favorites]

It's not any kind of solution, but it's probably worthwhile to know the relevant school policies pretty well.

For example, in the example where the student asked about plagiarism, I expected you to refer her to the school's guidelines on plagiarism, or to set up a time for her to talk with you (or a dean or someone) about the ins and outs of plagiarism. (TBH, at my school a number of professors devoted their first classes almost entirely to the subject, and actually gave us exercises on plagiarism and edge cases thereof, a class code of conduct to sign, and a description of the penalties involved. Too late for this semester, but something you might consider for the future.)

Being able to refer to the school's code of conduct in a matter-of-fact way and knowing who to redirect aggressive students to (as in "that's a good question, the dean of whatever could probably give you the best answer, shoot them an email and set up a meeting") definitely won't solve all problems, but they're tools that might help for some situations.

Definitely speak with any and all relevant administrators to learn what options both you and your students have at your school. Ideally they're set up to offer both students and teachers some support or advice.
posted by trig at 7:27 AM on April 3, 2018 [1 favorite]

WHY? Most policies have a contact person.

Counter with there is a process for reporting if you have concerns. The real answer is because people need to develop or hone their own skills. Academic integrity makes your degree worth something skill-wise.

If the student wants to report something to you, let’s go! Write it out & you’ll let him stay later to offset the time. If he can’t make it relevant to your class, he needs to reel it in, or step out until he can “attend” to class. Not my monkeys, not my circus if there is nothing to report.

Singing happens outside the classroom.

Deep breaths. You are doing the right thing.
posted by childofTethys at 7:35 AM on April 3, 2018

Yoi. You have my sympathies. In the high school classes I've taught I had a few of these types, where their main mission in life seemed to be to suck all of the air out of whatever room they were in.

With the example you give, and probably a bunch more that they try to pull, I would just impassively and earnestly tell them what your office hours are and then refuse to discuss the topic further. Once you've made the expectation clear that quiet work time is quiet work time and that you are open to any other discussions at the appropriate time and place (your office, during office hours), you've got the cover to send them packing if they continue to disrupt. You're not kicking them out for asking questions about academic integrity, you're kicking them out for doing so at the wrong time and place.

They're adults. You're an adult. Deal with them as adults.
posted by soren_lorensen at 7:49 AM on April 3, 2018 [1 favorite]

I used to teach in some very difficult middle schools so I have experience with just this sort of disruptive behavior. You are lucky! You can tell people to leave! You can say "if you do not want to be here, you are welcome to leave." Set a good boundary and enforce it; it'll suck the first day or maybe two but the other students will really, REALLY appreciate it and it'll be SO MUCH EASIER afterwards. Specific thoughts:

-Don't get angry.
-Don't threaten anything you aren't willing to do. If you say you'll call security, you have to be damn ready to call security. If you think it might get to that point, have the phone number ready. You will feel awkward and anxious if you have to google it while they're sitting there.1
-Don't keep giving extra chances. Say "you can sit quietly or you can leave" and then, if they don't sit quietly, they can leave.
-Address the behavior that's actually a problem. For example, the problem isn't asking about plagarism, it's interrupting everyone else working. Address the volume and timing, not the question.

Before class let them know that you'll be cracking down so it's not out of nowhere, e.g:
Before we begin today, I want to let you know that I have noticed that our class has suffered some interruptions. The majority of students are here to learn and, in order to support them, I will not be tolerating disruptive behaviors. If you do not wish to be here, you are welcome to leave. [see if anyone leaves]

Great! Let's get started!
When an issue arises:

-Identify what they're doing (You are speaking loudly during a quiet time).
-Identify why it's a problem (Other students are trying to work.)
-Identify the alternative (If you wish to speak with me, please [raise your hand/see me after class/whatever] THIS IS CRUCIAL! Don't just tell them what they can't do, tell them what they CAN do.
-Identify the consequences (NOT punishment) of continuing the action (If you cannot allow other students to work, you will need to leave) -- DO NOT threaten any consequences you are not fully prepared to carry out. It's okay to be uncomfortable calling security, for example, but don't say you'll do it if you won't.
-If they go along with what you say, visibly don't hold a grudge. Even if it's small, thank people for doing what you've asked them to do, e.g. if you say "Please raise your hand if you want to ask me a question" and then they do, even if they roll your eyes, look perky and say, "Ah, so-and-so, I see you have a question, great!" NOT SARCASTICALLY. It'll show it's not getting to you, encourage appropriate behavior, and get everyone else on your side with extremely gentle humor that's not at anyone's expense.

Sample script because stuff like this is helpful for me:

*Student bellows a question when other people are working quietly*

You: Other students are trying to work and you are interrupting their learning. If you want to speak with me, please [raise your hand/approach me after class/whatever].


You: Other students are working. If you are unable to be in this space without interrupting other people's work, you will need to leave.


You: I have asked you to be respectful of other students' need to work and you are continuing to prevent that. Please leave. I look forward to seeing you next class.

You: You are continuing to disrupt the class. If you are unable to leave by yourself, I will need to call security OR You are continuing to disrupt the class. I will not be calling security because I believe that often security personnel interact harmfully with students, but I am expecting you to leave now. *STARE* *IF THEY STILL DON'T LEAVE, AND THEY WILL, KEEP STARING BUT SUCK IN THE SIDES OF YOUR CHEEKS AND TILT YOUR HEAD SO THEY KNOW YOU MEAN IT, PRACTICE YOUR TEACHER LOOKS IN THE MIRROR, YOU GOT THIS*

1Security is a really tricky thing and you have to find your own comfort zone there because I know that students, especially students of color, are targeted by security in inappropriate ways and you might feel like it will escalate the situation or even put a student in danger. If you think you might call them, I would VERY VERY strongly recommend talking to them first to let them know that you just want someone to stand next to a student and walk them out, not to use physical force, and make sure you're comfortable with how you think they'll handle it. IF YOU ARE UNCOMFORTABLE WITH ANYONE AT ALL IN THE CAMPUS SECURITY OFFICE, DO NOT CALL THEM ESPECIALLY IF YOU HAVE STUDENTS OF COLOR! I would explain this and figure out what to do instead but it is 100% okay not to call security. In that case you might want to tell your students "I will not be calling security because I believe that authority figures unfairly target students of color, but I will be waiting to continue the class until you leave." and then just stare at them until they go. If you look angry and keep staring, they'll do it. This is SO HARD and it helps me if I pretend I'm someone braver than myself like Jessica Fletcher who wouldn't back down in the face of such rudeness. Everyone else will stare at them too and if you have a good reason for not calling security that demonstrates respect for the students they'll be on your side.
posted by Mrs. Pterodactyl at 7:57 AM on April 3, 2018 [16 favorites]

Oh, I feel for you!

I'm a small, female college professor. I've been where you are. It's not easy.

Two related things have really helped me diffuse these sorts of situations.

1. I try to remember that for the most part, these sorts of in-class hijinks are symptoms of anxiety. That is, these students are afraid that they're going to fail or they're worried that they just aren't comprehending material that they think they should be comprehending. They're arcing out, accordingly.

2. I treat every question as if it were a legitimate, thoughtful question about either the content of the class or the best methods for mastering content, however ill-intentioned the asker appears to have meant it to be. And then I proceed to answer the question I imagined they were asking, offering them a so-called "expert's" opinion on the subject.

In many cases, those students who disrupt class are those students most at risk of failing. The disruption in and of itself speaks to the fact that they haven't had the benefit of being acculturated to educational or professional environments before. I tend to think of my classrooms, therefore, as "safe" practice or rehearsal spaces: places where students can test out various ideas, skills, and behaviors so that they can learn what works best and what definitely doesn't work before they go "live" at their place of future employment.

In my experience, for example, a student who is fishing around about plagiarism is a student who is telling you that they are afraid that the work they will produce on their own will expose them for the fraud and the failure that they secretly fear that they are. In many cases, simply saying that you're sure they'll know how to avoid cheating and that you believe in them and will help make sure they get it right is enough.

Q: "Is paying someone to write a paper plagiarism?"

Me: "Oh, definitely. And I'm glad that no one here in this class even needs to consider taking a risk like that because you all are gonna write great papers. I'm going to help you along the way. So just keep working at the task we're doing right now because this activity is designed to teach you how to X."

The singing would definitely throw me, but I would probably express some surprise because, well, it's genuinely surprising and also the student needs some feedback that helps them learn how that kind of unconventional social interaction is likely gonna play out outside of a classroom. "Whoah. You don't often hear someone singing in a room full of folks while they work!" Next, I might actually complement the student, "You have a nice voice." Finally, I'll go all professor on it: "Did you know that there was a recent study on how noise levels impact productivity? Most people, it turns out, do more and better work if there's some ambient noise in the background -- like the hum of an air conditioner. Apparently, it helps folks keep calm and focused. People who worked in really silent environments weren't as productive. So the noise level has to be just right, because in work environments where there was too much or too little noise, people were not as productive as in those where there was just enough noise."

This posture I've adopted -- part pollyanna, part naive savant -- has worked shockingly well for me: way better than telling students off, or disciplining them, or kicking them out. I'm able to reinforce my position as an expert over subject matter and shift the tenor of the class back into that of "educational environment" rather than "social hour at the mess hall." By treating the singing as if it were something legitimate or the plagiarism question as if it were a real question, I've also actually highlighted how ridiculous both were in that context without ever having to say so directly.

I'm happy to do a little off topic chit chatting in these moments, but I'm also ready to say something like, "I'll plan for us to talk more about Y in another class, but today we have to get back to finishing X. So work hard for five more minutes and then we'll discuss X."
posted by pinkacademic at 8:58 AM on April 3, 2018 [6 favorites]

If I were a cc student, probably paying my hard-earned, limited dollars to be there, perhaps doubling up my schedule while working or juggling family responsibilities, and I had to have my class time wasted on the professor nurse-maiding students not to SING while everyone is working, I'd be absolutely livid.

These are adults. But this is not some arcane high-level expectation of professionalism. Even high-school students--heck, middle-schoolers--know that this kind of disruptive behavior is not appropriate. They're choosing to engage in it for whatever reason, knowing it's hurting everyone else. That reason is not your concern, nor is it your problem. If they can't behave nondisruptively, then they can't be in your classroom, period. Some things you might be able to look past, but not behaviors that actively interfere with others' learning. Also, you are not actually in a position to teach them basic emotional regulation, self-respect, and consideration for others; even if that were part of the job description, the idea that you could succeed where their whole lives to date have failed to produce human beings with a modest willingness to act right is really optimistic.

Tell them to cut out the behavior or leave or you'll call security. And then do it. It's not fun, but anything else is not fair to the other students.
posted by praemunire at 9:39 AM on April 3, 2018 [5 favorites]

"That's a great question for the Dean of Students {or whatever the title is of the person who would handle disciplinary questions}! Did you want to go ask now or did you want to stay here and finish today's lesson?"

I am assuming that, as a college class, there are no periods when students are "working quietly" unless there's a quiz or exam taking place, so this is something they are interjecting into your lecture. You can cut off a bunch of that "but why" bullshit by reiterating your office hours and saying you don't want to waste the time of 25 other tuition-paying students who are here to learn the scheduled material that's going to be on the test. Because most students do not go to community college to fuck around, and while they likely will not beat the fucking-around student in the middle of the night with bars of soap in socks it is the same principle: make them accountable to the room, not just to you the authority figure who must be tormented at all costs.
posted by Lyn Never at 10:07 AM on April 3, 2018 [3 favorites]

I taught university courses for about four years. I was lucky to only have a few disciplinary issues with the rare problem student, mostly outside of class. Class clowns like this I just typically scoffed at or, if my patience was wearing thin, made an example of. Typically worked fairly well. They love the response you’re giving them and they’re using it to shift power in the room for attention. If they keep it up, consider scheduling a meeting between the three of you and the Dean of Students. That will probably freak them out enough to stop as now there is a record of disciplinary action. If it continues after that? Kick them out.

I love Lyn Never’s response.
posted by Young Kullervo at 10:25 AM on April 3, 2018

I think it's worth checking with your chair for some feedback. At the community college where I teach, there's a list of prohibited behaviors in the student code of conduct that includes: Physical obstructions or interference with teaching, research, administration, college activities, or the College's subsidiary responsibilities through "disorderly conduct" or "disruptive behavior." That's a wonderful catch-all phrase. My chair and dean have made it clear that if a student is doing anything that is making teaching more difficult, our policy is to ask them to leave, then call security to escort them if they don't leave willingly. Students are not allowed to return until they have met with me one-on-one and signed a paper indicating what they did that was a violation and that they understand with the next violation they are removed from class permanently. We don't mess around and I really like that.

On the other hand, my previous college was not nearly as clear about consequences and not as likely to back the faculty up in this situation. It's worth it to figure out what kind of institution you are at.
posted by Pater Aletheias at 11:16 AM on April 3, 2018 [1 favorite]

I had an answer ready to type, and now I have second thoughts. Here is what I was going to say: Don't engage them in arguments, they are putting on a performance for their friends, so don't give them the opportunity. Any off topic questions/statements, tell them that only on topic discussions will happen during class and to come see you afterward.

On second thought, looking again at the question. Maybe their "performance" was to clue you in that some of the non-disruptive students are plagiarizing and this is a way of putting those students on notice, without being a snitch.
posted by 445supermag at 12:22 PM on April 3, 2018

I think that in general, sarcasm is something to be avoided in a classroom situation, just because you never know how playfully/seriously some people take it. However, if grown-enough students are doing every immature thing they can just to get your attention, I find that a simple obvious eye-roll accompanied by a completely unamused look that communicates "... Wow, seriously?" can be effective. It's a way of telling them they're not clever or funny without having to say it, and it's not giving them something they can really respond to.

Here's a script of how I handle consistently disruptive students:

"If you don't do your work, that's your decision. But if you spend your time and energy distracting others and making it harder for them to learn, then you're being disrespectful to them and their education. I can't force you to focus, but I will do everything I can to make sure that those who want to learn are able to. If you are negatively affecting the rest of the class' experience, you need to leave."

Then the norm that they need to at least be respectful or leave has been established, and it's not about you and your frustration so much as your responsibility to the class.
posted by desertface at 1:17 PM on April 3, 2018 [2 favorites]

Hey everybody, I come back bearing tales of victory.

I went in like a fucking teacher ninja on Wednesday, used a bunch of the suggestions here, and somehow over the course of the three-hour course we became friends again. One hater tried to sent me his darkest looks and biggest eye-rolls, and I gave him my biggest cheerful I am here to help you and I will be cheerful unless and even after you stab me in the eyeball, and I think I might have won him over. One hater was rolling around in a cloud of marijuana that he took time to replenish when he stepped out when he 'went to the bathrooom', and I put on this big, WOW THAT IS SO WEIRD IT SMELLS LIKE MARIJUANA WHERE COULD IT BE COMING FROM act, which I suppose is a little evil.

But you know what? I'm actually comfortable going there. As a serious stoner myself who would not want my colleagues to know that I am a serious stoner, I am fine passing on some knowledge by fucking with them a little when they are apt to be vulnerable to said fuckery.

So this class will still probably be an experience, as I was down two haters and one hater was clearly self-medicating.

But seriously folks, during the class that prompted this post, I had this weird experience where I remembered with great specificity the two grade school teachers I knew had broke down in class crying, and I wanted nothing more to find these teachers and say I UNDERSTAND NOW I'M SO SORRY

Thanks again!
posted by IwishIwasFordMaddoxFord at 4:37 PM on April 7, 2018 [5 favorites]

Congratulations! Way to go!
posted by Slothrop at 5:37 PM on April 7, 2018

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