Dealing with Classroom Disruption
Opportunities for SF State students to be distracted while you teach your course are plenty. Technology devices are just one form of classroom disruption that SF State Instructors have to deal with on a daily basis. Ringing cell phones in class, social media apps on smart phones, and laptops set to websites like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube are just some of the ways students are not engaging with their classmates or Instructors. Students who become inpatient or upset with the course of instruction are also on the rise. How do faculty address these and other types of disruptive issues in the classroom?
Referring a student to the Office of Student Conduct
There are instances in which it may be necessary to refer a student to the Office of Student Conduct for further intervention. Faculty, instructors, and staff may file a concern using the link below:
The first step is to be proactive at the beginning of the academic semester. Set the stage for a positive classroom experience by:
- Stating reasonable and clear expectations in advance on the first day of instruction
- Defining conduct standards and discussing rules of etiquette in your syllabus, note that classroom disruptions will not be tolerated and may be referred to the Office of Student Conduct
- Giving examples of desired conduct as well as unacceptable behavior
- Explaining the reasons for your classroom expectations and inviting student comments and suggestions
- Being a role model for expected behavior and keeping your relationship with students friendly and professional
What is disruptive behavior?
Depending on the size and nature of your class what is considered "disruptive" may vary. In general, disruption and obstruction include behavior that interferes with, disrupts, or prevents normal classroom functions or activities. Disruptive behaviors can range from mildly distracting to clearly disorderly, violent, or dangerous. Depending on course rules set by the instructor, disruption in the classroom may include:
- side conversations, ringing cell phones or using a cell phone to talk or send text messages
- interrupting the instructor or other students
- monopolizing class discussion and refusing to defer to instructor, or listen to others; persisting when the instructor has indicated that the student’s remarks are off topic and it is time to move on
- entering late/leaving early, moving about the classroom
- filming, photographing, or taping the class
- yelling, arguing, swearing or other intimidating behavior
- reading, sleeping, eating, drinking, or not paying attention
- showing up to class under the influence of alcohol/drugs
How should I respond to disruptive behavior?
Nipping it in the bud is key. Please follow these tips for responding to disruption when it occurs:
- if you believe inappropriate behavior is occurring, start by cautioning the whole class rather than warning a particular student. A technique is to stop class, calmly indicate the problem (e.g. side conversations, cell phones) and state that class cannot continue until the behavior stops.
- Before resuming, enlist the support of others by reminding the class that the disruptive behavior is taking away from class time and may result in some exam material not being covered in class.
- Students also have academic freedom, so it is important to exercise authority with compassion and self-restraint. It is best to correct innocent mistakes and minor first offenses gently, without ridiculing students’ remarks.
- If it becomes necessary to speak to an individual student about disruptive behavior, do so after class in a discreet manner (see tips below). If the situation requires an immediate response in class, calmly and courteously ask the student to stop the conduct and to talk to you after class or during office hours.
- You may want to inform the class that students may be disciplined for disrupting class, and to reiterate that message if you talk with an individual student outside class because of his or her behavior. Remind the student that continued disruption may result in removal from the class.
- A student should be asked to leave class if he or she engages in disruptive behavior that impedes your ability to teach the class productively. You have the right to contact the University Police if the student refuses to leave. If the student’s refusal to leave creates a safety risk or makes it impossible to continue class, you may also dismiss class for the day. If this happens, immediately contact your department chair and the Office of Student Conduct.
Having a discussion with a disruptive student.
Addressing the need for civility in the classroom is an important, albeit, sometimes difficult conversation to have with a student. Here are some tips for discussing the disruptive issue with your student:
- Clearly describe the behavior and its impact on the class
- Ask the student to respond and listen carefully to the student's response. Often, providing an opportunity for a student to respond will resolve the matter
- Discuss your expectation for what is appropriate behavior in the classroom
- Ask the student if they understand your expectations for future behavior
- Share with your students what outcomes will occur should they disrupt the classroom again, such as referring the matter to the Office of Student Conduct for formal charges
- Summarize the conversation and expectations
- Keep a record of that conversation including the date of the meeting, what the disruption was, the student's response and note that you made them aware of the consequences of any subsequent disruption to your class
The Office of Student Conduct will contact you should more information be needed regarding the incident.
Tips for dealing with classroom disruption
Michael B. Brown, Associate Dean at Harriot College of Arts and Sciences developed a great six page PDF resource on preventing and dealing with classroom disruption.