Disruptive Student Behavior: Do You Really Know What You’d Do?

Here at ProfHacker, we are committed to helping you (and ourselves) become better educators.  We write about teaching strategies, tools that aid in (teaching) productivity, and classroom strategies that work for us and that might just work for you.  Some of our posts deal with methods of instruction in specific disciplines.  Some of our content is generalizable across many fields and classroom situations.  And lastly, we focus on teaching situations that few of us cover in graduate school:  classroom management techniques.  We have the “disruptive student behavior” series that outlines a specific disruptive situation and then asks you, our readers, how you might handle that situation.  Shared knowledge can be good knowledge.

Our posts are serious, but some are more serious than others.  Faculty of all ranks need information about how to handle disruptive students.  Maybe you know how to handle the loud student that never stops talking or the student that comes to class barely clothed, but your colleagues might not.  We believe in sharing knowledge, as this can make us stronger educators.

By now, you have probably seen the YouTube video of the Florida Atlantic University student that threatened to kill her professor and her classmates before she was removed from the classroom.  It’s a disturbing video.  (Warning: the video contains graphic language.)

Do you know what would you do if the above scenario happened in your class?

Until now, we at ProfHacker haven’t written about this type of disruption. Our posts have been important, if a little tongue-in-cheek.  However, we need to address these serious issues.  Often we believe we know how we’d handle the kind of situation noted in the above video.  Until we come face to face with it, however, we can’t know for sure.  We might know how we’d react; then again, we might not.  Thinking and knowing are two different things.

Some campuses, mine included, provide faculty a laminated sheet at the beginning of each semester that outlines which campus office to call in the case of an emergency, and it outlines steps to take if a professor feels threatened or senses danger for his/her classroom.  These are useful tools.

But are they enough?

Inside Higher Ed recently published a post about “Class Problems” and how to handle disruptive students.  In this post, author Kaustuv Basu, mentioned a program at Santa Monica College where faculty are given simulations of disruptive classroom circumstances, and these faculty members practice different ways to diffuse those situations.  Basu quotes Brenda Johnson Benson, dean of counseling and retention at Santa Monica College about the usefulness of the simulations, “I think the faculty walk away [from the simulated practices] feeling better equipped.”   Certainly.  Isn’t that what we tell our students all the time?  Practice makes us better.

Another powerful tool for helping faculty face these issues would be theatre.  For example, the CRLT Players Theatre Program at the University of Michigan use interactive theatre to simulate how to control classroom management issues.  Previous sessions have included topics such as “Authority in the Classroom,” “Lab Dynamics,” or even “Departmental Climate and Communication.”  (I don’t know if the CLRT Players have done an interactive presentation on the kind of disruption we saw at FAU, but it’s possible that they have or could.)

What makes these two examples noteworthy is that they both allow faculty to practice how they’d react to situations that could have, unfortunately, deadly consequences.  Certainly there are more methods to train faculty in what do in the case of an emergency.

Today’s question, then, is for administrators (presidents, provosts, deans, department chairs, others):  What are you doing on your campus to ensure that your faculty know how to handle major disruptions (those that could have serious consequences) in their classes? Please leave your comments and suggestions below.


[Image by Flick user Demi-Brooke and used under the Creative Commons license.]

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