Dealing with Disruptive Students:  Fostering Classroom Civility

Campus Resources


  • Need training to see value in unfamiliar educational strategies. (AKA “you didn’t tell me the right answer in class, how can you expect me to know it?”)
  • Need guidance to accept nonwhite, non-male faculty as just as qualified and as authoritative.

Types of Disruptive Behavior

  • disengaged
  • disinterested
  • disrespectful
  • disruptive
  • defiant
  • disturbed

Prevention Strategies

Behavioral contracts

  • List specific behavioral expectations in syllabus, but with a positive spin “Students are expected to turn in homework on time" vs. "Late homework will not be accepted."
  • Adjust your stage presence.
    • Be polite
    • Speak with rather than at students
    • Refer to your own research or experiences whenever appropriate
    • Extend verbal respect to students, use last names or ask what they would prefer to be called
    • Walk around the class
    • Use broad gestures
    • Speak to the back row
    • Ask for input from students
    • Do not end declarative sentences with a questioning rise in vocal pitch
    • Have students identify what they consider inappropriate behaviors as a group
  • Claim your territory.
    • Dress professionally
    • Speak in a clear low voice
    • Maintain social space
    • Have students address you as professor, instructor, or Doctor
  • Empower students to police their peers through peer pressure.

Mediation Strategies

  • Act, do not react
    • Do not allow a student to goad you into losing your cool.
  • Act quickly
    • The longer you allow a behavior to continue, the harder it will be to change the behavior
  • Follow up outside of class
    • Provide privacy from other students but not other faculty/staff
    • Allow enough time for emotions to cool on both sides
    • Be personal in confronting a student but do not take it personally
    • Do not accept further abuse

In class strategies to try

  • Insert quiet pauses and make eye contact with the student
  • Decrease physical distance from student
  • Model polite behavior
  • Reiterate syllabus requirements in regard to behavior
  • Adapt classroom to minimize disruption
    • Incorporate small group work, like problem based learning tasks
    • Answer leading or questions with guiding questions. Deflect hidden agendas.

Reframe Uncivil Behavior

  • Focus on positive parts
  • Even negative statements indicate interest in material

Recourse:  Recourses are available to you as faculty (Use only if nothing else works):

  • You can ask them to leave for a class period but you cannot ban them from the class.
  • If they do not leave after you have dismissed them, call university police. Then, either take a ten minute break or move the class to another room.