Disruptive Student Behavior: The Entitled Students

As higher education professionals, we have conversations with friends and colleagues about our students.  We’ve all done it.  The conversations can include how engaged students are with course material, how interesting classes can be when students participate, or maybe we’ve passed along a particularly funny exchange with students.  We love what we do, and we want to share that joy.  But then there are the other experiences, experiences we don’t readily share because we don’t quite know how to handle them.  Or, we don’t share them because we don’t want our colleagues and friends to know that we can’t handle the situations. That’s what ProfHacker’s “Disruptive Student Behavior” is all about:  it gives us a space to discuss—calmly, respectfully, and sometimes anonymously—how to handle difficult situations with students.

This series has a few caveats:

  • First: In this series, we will present a few scenarios, and it’s clear that how we handle these scenarios depends upon the discipline, the class size, and the culture of an institution.  We try to include as many of these variables as we can, while understanding that we can’t account for every situational difference.  What we are discussing here are behaviors that—no matter the discipline or the institutional culture—impede learning for other students.
  • Second: ProfHacker is not a place to complain about students in any mean-spirited sort of way.  That is not what this series of posts attempts.  Instead, we want to focus on what we can do, positively and professionally, to handle the sometimes-difficult situations we can have with students.
  • Third, please don’t focus solely on the examples.  These are merely examples that I chose to use.  I could have chosen to use others.  The examples are only important in that they are examples of entitled behavior from students.

Typically, these posts in this series centers on behaviors that impede learning for students; however, today the focus is on behaviors that can impede student learning.  Today’s behavior:  handling the “entitled” student.  You know the one (but here are a few examples):

  • She emails you the day classes begin and states that she won’t be able to attend the first two weeks of classes because she’s on a family vacation in Europe.  Additionally, she says, the week before the holiday break isn’t really good for her either because she’s traveling to Africa to go on Safari during that time.  The final exam time might be iffy, too, but she’ll let you know.  Can you, she asks, send her all your notes and PowerPoint presentations so she can do the work on her own?
  • He tells you that he can’t take a test on the planned date because he has an appointment with his father who is, the student reminds you, the president of the Board of Regents for your university.  He’d be happy to take the exam in a few weeks at some time that would be convenient for him.
  • She claims, “I [my parents] pay $50,000 a year to this school.  I expect my money’s worth from you.  And my money’s worth is an ‘A’.”
  • He tells you (and this is my personal favorite as it happened to me once), “I can buy you.”

These types of comments can be signs of a student’s immaturity or misguided sense of power.  They can be, nonetheless, upsetting to a professor.  What many of these types of comments aim to do is exert authority and induce fear.  And sometimes the student is successful.  Handling these students professionally and appropriately can be a challenge, but it can be more of a challenge if you are not protected by tenure.  So, today’s Disruptive Student Behavior series adds in the variable of professorial rank.  If you are a tenured full professor, you might have one response to entitled students.  If you are an adjunct professor, hired on a semester-by-semester basis, you might have another response.

What we can do in these posts and with your comments and suggestions below, is guide faculty who may not be as experienced with this kind of disruption.  Keep in mind that ProfHacker’s readership can include anyone in higher education: grad students to the most senior and experienced professors.  Your contribution to this discussion is valued.

If you are unfamiliar with this ProfHacker series, you might take a look at these previous posts and the types of comments that others have left to get the kind of helpful tone we are striving for in this series:

How about you? Factoring in the professor’s academic rank, what would you do in any of the above situations with “entitled” students?  What suggestions do you have for your lesser-experienced colleagues?  Please leave comments below.

[Image by Flickr user Red~Star and used under the Creative Commons license.]

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