Counseling and Student Development Center
“Supporting a Healthy Learning Environment”
Building 39, Suite 120
Dealing with a Disruptive Student
Disruptive classroom behavior is an action or combination of actions that unreasonably interferes with, hinders, or prevents others from freely participating in or fully benefiting from an educational process or activity. Some of the most common classroom disruptions can often be handled with conventional classroom management strategies or even prevented by clarifying behavioral expectations and guidelines. Sometimes disruptive behavior escalates to a situation that becomes threatening to the safety and wellbeing of others. For these extreme incidents, Public Safety should be contacted immediately.
Examples of Disruptive Behavior:
- Repeated interruptions or incessant talking during a lecture
- Hostile comments or angry outbursts
- Aggressively taking over lecture or discussion
- Using a cell-phone or other electronic device during class
Preventing Disruptive Behavior
- Clarify your behavioral expectations in the syllabus and review these on the first day of class. Outline basic behavioral standards, prohibited conduct, how you plan to manage behavioral issues, and possible consequences or disciplinary action.
- Be clear about your expectations and consistent about enforcing them.
- Serve as a role model for the conduct you expect from your students. Maintain mutual respect in your interactions with students, and maintain a calm and poised disposition.
- Try not to take disruptive behavior personally or respond heatedly.
- If the behavior is irritating, but not disruptive, try speaking with the student after class. Many students are unaware of distracting habits or mannerisms, and may have not intended to be offensive or disruptive.
- Before a classroom becomes unmanageable, consider a general word of caution to the class, rather than warning a particular student. For example, “we have too many conversations occurring at the same time; let’s all focus on the same topic.” If disruptive behavior continues after you have offered a general word of caution, ask the individual to stop the specific behavior and offer to speak more with them privately. See the recommendations which follow.
Responding to Disruptive Behavior
- Respond immediately. Verbally request that the student stop the disruptive behavior. Address the specific problematic behavior in a firm, concise manner, but try not to raise your voice. Remind the class of your expectations for classroom behavior.
- If the problem persists, notify the student that if the behavior does not stop immediately, he or she must leave the class and that disciplinary action may result. Offer to talk to the student about the issue privately at another time.
- If the student refuses to leave the classroom and the behavior persists or escalates, notify him or her that you will call Campus Safety and that disciplinary action will result. Proceed to call Campus Safety at 202.274. 5050.
- You may wish to consult with your department chair or dean prior to an individual meeting with the student about repetitive disruptive behavior.
When meeting with a student about their problematic behavior:
- Be specific about the inappropriate behavior that the student has exhibited. Focus on the problematic behaviors, rather than on the student as a person.
- Clarify expectations and develop an agreement with the student on future conduct. Showing respectful concern may help them to hear your message and to modify their behavior. Try to remain calm, even if the student becomes agitated.
- Conclude by summarizing any resolutions and articulating expectations for the future. Be clear that continued inappropriate behavior will result in disciplinary action. You may want to document your meeting and the outcome of it for your records.
- When student conduct is significantly disruptive, but not an emergency, consult with your dean/department chair and make an incident report of threatening, harassing, and/or bizarre behavior with the Office of Public Safety.
- If a disruption is serious, and other reasonable measures have failed, adjourn the class and call campus security (4-5050). When a student engages in behavior that causes you or others to feel unsafe or threatened, contact campus police (4-5050) immediately.