Problem students come in all forms, and may be “difficult” for wide variety of behaviors. While it’s impossible to create neat little categories that adequately describe the full range of problems encountered by college faculty, a good starting point may be to classify the behaviors as annoying, disruptive, or dangerous. Each requires a different type of response based on the context of the behavior.
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working with difficult students
We know from the literature, and more directly from conversations with colleagues, that most college teachers are concerned, annoyed, frustrated, and occasionally angered by the way students behave in the classroom. But are these behaviors of concern to other students in the classroom?
Students’ expectations for top marks, whether they earned them or not, unfortunately can be coupled with foolish tendencies on the part of some teachers (this writer excepted of course) to play the role of the avuncular professor. The kindly avuncular professor is easily deluded to think that “encouraging” students with exaggerated praise and slight grade inflation will be helpful. It isn’t. How do I know? For me, the tell-tale sign is that often after handing in my grades, I feel a mild self-loathing. This is the feeling I get when I give grades that don’t truly reflect the totality of what I experience from students.
A few weeks ago I did what professors all over the land did: I logged my students’ grades and handed them in. This capped the end of an academic year in which I have never been more reviled and hated. In fact, this semester I gave my students permission to hate me to the fullest, and I in turn allowed myself the drunken freedom of “hating” them as well.
Difficult students are a potential problem for every faculty member. This is why it’s important to learn ways to deal with inappropriate or disruptive student behavior. In an email interview with The Teaching Professor, Brian Van Brunt, director of the Counseling and Testing at Western Kentucky University, and Perry Francis, professor of counseling at Eastern Michigan University, addressed some of the key issues involving these types of students.
Students who display a passive-aggressive personality style may do so in a variety of ways … from chronic tardiness to sleeping in class. Let’s look at the student who’s always running late. As you know, some students are late to class on a regular basis, and in doing so are probably displaying a form of resistance or defiance—and it is wise to see it as such.
Disruptive students, in any teaching and learning environment, are a challenge to manage, but they can be particularly so online. And it may take longer for an instructor to realize that a student is actually being disruptive online, since online communications can be ambiguous and one always wants to give students the benefit of the doubt.
James is a first-year student who is enjoying the freedoms of being out from underneath his parents’ rules. He’s an average student academically, but is often a distraction in class. He perpetually texting or surfing the web, and gentle reminders from the professor to pay attention fail to keep him on task for long. His behavior is having a negative effect on other students in the class and the professor is reaching his breaking point. The final straw came when the professor noticed James was wearing headphones while taking an exam.
Managing students who are disruptive, those who lack motivation and appear as though they would rather be any place than in the classroom, is easier when faculty take the right stance. Anything is possible when faculty have faith in the students they teach. Learning starts with a dedicated teacher interested in meeting the challenge of how to present content in a way that successfully navigates the barriers students erect.