I don't handle the occasional angry student in my office well

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I've been teaching since 99, f/t since 05 and tenured since 09. I teach f2f, online and hybrid at a community college. Here's what has me up since 4am this morning... every once in a while, I get a confrontational student in my office and for some reason, it just doesn't go well. Either the student is really upset about his or her grade, is questioning my teaching abilities, or is being asked to sign a document that says they've plagiarized and although I do my best to handle it well, I'm just not graceful about it. I try to smooth feathers, but I can tell that I'm upset inside. I try to listen, but because I can't give in and, say, change their grade from a "D" to an "A" because "they've always gotten A's up til now," I get just a tad explanatory (or worse yet, a bit defensive) about the assignment or the class expectations.

I know I'm not explaining this well, but it feels like a battle of the wills (or egos).

Here's the thing--I have some mini-confrontations with students on this kind of thing (well, not the outright plagiarism in final drafts, but everything else, yeah) nearly every day and I handle the ones that happen in class or just outside the class very well. I use a little humor, I nod in understanding, I defuse the situation and move us forward without caving in.

But for some reason, the very few who come to my office angry (and I'm talking about 1 student every other year or so), I just can't be the smoothie I am when in the classroom or in the hallway. I don't know if this is an age thing (I'm twice the age of my traditional students), or a gender thing (I'm female, many of these students  are male), or some kind of feeling protective about my space thing. Or, gosh, some other weirdness.

That said, the student is not being rude or angry enough that I feel I should have someone else present or call security. On the other hand, I'm not raising my voice, being rude, cussing anyone out, or stomping out of my office, either. I'm just not as funny, understanding and smooth as I am in class or just outside my classroom.

So how do you handle in-office confrontations with students who are angry or upset? Even if you don't lose your cool on the outside, how do you keep from losing your cool on the inside? And how long does it take you to let go of the situation after the in-office meeting?

I think I understand. I haven't been teaching as long as you, but I've had the "I've never got less than [grade] before" argument. Other than saying "well, you have now" I don't know a solution. I certainly had the questioning-my-abilities hostile male student a few years back, I got flustered and I know I didn't manage it well either. I'm interested to see what others suggest.

Thanks bacardiandlime. Nice handle, too!

I'm from a working class background and teaching is my third and final career choice, so low-self esteem and pride are somehow converging in my brain here... but for some reason, I'm all fine, friendly and detached in the classroom or in the hallway. Get me in my office with a plagiarism form and I feel tenuous, shaky, and defensive inside.

It's weird!

Quote from: bacardiandlime on March 21, 2013,  6:27:05 am

I certainly had the questioning-my-abilities hostile male student a few years back, I got flustered and I know I didn't manage it well either.

Believe it or not, I'm considering putting my degrees on the wall in a not-too-in-your-face place just to see if this helps angry young male students see that someone has put a value on my abilities.

I have taught young men in a particular certificate program at my CC and ran into these kinds of confrontations every day and it didn't go well. They also banded together (along with their program advisor) and went to my boss to complain that I was "too hard." Another instructor (younger than me, but a mom) had great luck with this population. It's too late for me to have kids to gain understanding, but I wish I was better at handling this kind of thing. I am going to try stepping out of my office and doing some deep breathing next time...

This is probably my biggest challenge is remaining totally cool in the face of aggression or anger.

It's biological (fight or flight), and apparently I'm programmed to fight.

I usually don't raise my voice, but I do say things in the heat of the moment that I later feel were perhaps a bit clunky or unnecessary. I don't think I'm ever totally inappropriate, but it's just not my most graceful moment.

I have no suggestions other than being reflective and maybe developing a couple go-to phrases while you're calm and repeating them like mantras will help you say them during a confrontation.

Perhaps: "I understand you're angry. I'm feeling a bit defensive myself. Would you mind if I thought this over for a while and we had this discussion later, when we can be more productive?"


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