by Lisa Rodriguez, Ph.D.
For this purpose, management refers to issues of supervision, refereeing, facilitating, and even academic discipline.
Since many professors teach for years without encountering some of the management instances we discuss here, our intent is to move beyond identification of classroom problems to suggest preventative strategies and practical solutions. For some faculty, teaching comes quite naturally and the notion of management in the classroom is irrelevant.
Typical classroom management topics are listed in faculty handbooks to reflect pragmatic concerns such as policies on classroom breaks, adds and drops, disruptive and dangerous students, emergency procedures including weapons and drugs in the classroom, location of phones, etc.
Serendipitously, our campus Staff Learning Department instituted an online discussion forum where faculty could seek collective advice on issues of classroom management. Your campus may use the services of the 4faculty discussion forums.
Issues / Solution Suggestions Table :
1. Undermining the instructor’s authority
This is tricky as it speaks to "attitude." A student might belittle the instructor or engage in a battle of the wills.
Acting as it they are not, even when you suspect they are, can convey a sense of confidence and control. You may even want to encourage them to ask the question again at a later date if necessary."
2. Leaving class too frequently
Camps are divided as to whether or not students should ask for permission to leave for bathroom breaks or wait for a break in the class. You might privately ask the student if everything is OK so that they know that you are concerned by their behavior. Don’t assume disrespect – it might be a bladder infection or some other physical problem.
3. "Spacing Out" or Sitting With Back to Instructor
You might ask them after class if they need a more comfortable seat. Remember also that sustained eye contact is a culturally dictated practice that might not be feasible for some students.
4. Poor hygiene (possible cultural considerations) This can be a real problem for some faculty while others will never encounter the dilemma. I suggest letting the offending student know that in close quarters, some students have issues with strong smell. It might be suggested that for the course (not their outside of class lives) that the odor be masked in some way.
5. Verbal or physical threats
Verbal or physical threats are serious matters. They are discussed in detail by experts in the field in "Handling Crisis."
As a general rule consult professional experts for assistance immediately.
6. Gum, Food, Pagers, and Cell Phone Disruption
Instructors need to abide by this rule as well and allow for at least one mistake per student as accidents do happen from oversight. The idea here is to prevent habitual disruption from gum popping and phones ringing.
7. Monopolizing Discussions
This is common but manageable. You might approach them initially by saying that you are pleased with the amount of enthusiasm they have for discussion but were hoping that they have suggestions for getting the other class members equally involved. The student will most likely get your drift with minimal humiliation.
8. Sleeping in class
Sleeping in class is usually considered rude. An alternative approach is to assume that the student does not feel well, was up most of the night with a sick child, or has some other condition that results in sleepiness when still for long periods of time. You might simply choose to wake the student and ask them if they are feeling alright. To pull this off you need to approach it with true concern for the student's health and well being. Most of the time, student's are so embarrassed and so appreciative of your genuine concern that they don't let it happen again.
Encourage students to actively participate, take notes (explain that this is helpful to their learning as it stimulates memory in the brain) and in particularly long classes break up the session with activities or paired conversations about a topic to ensure that students stay engaged. Students don't learn much from listening, so remember that the more they "experience" the learning process the more you are really teaching.
9. Repeated Tardiness:
There should be clear parameters set around this issue up front – either in your syllabus or in the class decided norms. Stick to your guns on the policy. Some fair policies might include 3 tardiest equals one absence.
It might be best to discuss this with students individually; some are habitually late because they are dependant on bus routes or other drivers for transportation to school.
10. Refusal to Participate or Speak
Remember, some students are terrified to be in a class setting –especially if there are round tables rather than desks – allowing for little anonymity.
11. Sexual Innuendo, Flirting, or Other Inappropriate Suggestion
Your response should be not judgmental and you might discuss it with your department chair or faculty mentor before broaching it with your student.
12. Sharing/ Copying Work
Be careful to give thought to how you will handle this before you encounter it and react as if it were intentional cheating. This can also occur when the class does a great deal of group work. Make sure you are clear about what is individual vs. group work in your assignments.
13. Plagiarism or Lying
Be sure to know you college policy before taking action.
Plagiarism should be outlined in your syllabus with a reference for students to the college catalog for more information.
14. Too Much Chit Chat
Give 2-minute chat times for groups or before class begins let them know that you have material to be covered and that their talking isn’t helping you achieve your goals for the class.
15. Disrespectful Behavior
You will find yourself in a conversation with yourself about why they don’t like you and treat you with disrespect. Perhaps offer them a special task based on a self-disclosed talent; for instance, a student whose hobby is Origami (Japanese paper folding) might lead a lesson on the art of following instructions.
A few notes on confronting the behaviors listed above:
Start with a positive statement if possible: for example, if a student is monopolizing class discussion, you might start by saying, "I’m really pleased that you take such an interest in discussions and have a lot to share. But I was wondering if you might have suggestions to help others get equally involved?"
Keep in mind that your dean will likely suggest you take a graduated approach: verbal warning, written warning, meeting with the dean, etc.
Remember that you were once a student. Think before you act. Take a deep breath if necessary before saying or doing anything you might later regret.
Setting the Classroom Atmosphere
You may wish to revisit and reflect upon the importance of the first day of class. A successful first day and week often contributes to a semester free of classroom management problems. Setting ground rules, as discussed in Module 4, can be particularly helpful.
Managing Tempo and Time
If you have an early morning, after lunch, or after dinner class time, you might notice some problems with rhythm and attentiveness. You might start these classes with brainteasers or wake up exercises that get students ready to focus.
New instructors often become surprised by how even the best-laid lesson plans go awry. It is often the case that students will lead the discussion off topic and the instructor, pleased to have such lively interaction, will not be able to bring the class back on track. As mentioned in Making a Good First Impression, a handy practice is to have key phrases pre-planned to bring class back to topic such as "time to come together now, please wrap it up in 2 minutes."
Some classrooms don’t have clocks where faculty can see them, so as is practiced in Toastmasters (the professional speaking organization) it might be useful to select a timekeeper whose function it is to notify you when discussion time is up and transition is needed. With this reminder written on the board under the daily agenda, students aren’t as hesitant to let me know that while they are fascinated by my words, I have exceeded a self-imposed limit.
Finally, if you have taken the advice to audio or video tape your instruction but still find that you are prone to tangents, you might bring a kitchen timer with a soft bell to keep track of time limits on lecturing or group projects. This is especially helpful with question and answer times following student presentations.
Making a Connection between Faculty and Students:
Students can feel disconnected and disoriented in a new class. Returning students might feel self-conscious about their age and out of place returning to school while younger students might bring emotional remnants of negative high school experiences with them to their first college classroom.
Breaking the ice is essential in establishing this connection. In Planning for the First Day of Class, you found solid advice for the first day of class. Some ideas for lessening the tensions that might exist from lack of familiarity include:
Know your philosophy regarding education and tell your students what it is. This can be an enlightening experience for them to realize that you consider your career to be deeper in meaning beyond merely collecting a paycheck.
Take digital photos (with permission) of the class to let them know that you value them and want know their names and faces as soon as possible.
Present a visual depiction of your life such as a Power Point that contains family photos, pictures of a pet, a mission statement, examples of artwork, hobbies, short biographical sketch, etc.
Share an instance when you struggled as a student and how you dealt with it.
Share your memories of your best and your worst instructors when you were a student. Distribute a questionnaire. I usually distribute a single-page (confidentially and with a clear statement that the decision to not answer the questions does not constitute lack of participation) for students’ e-mail address, phone number, age, number of children, hobbies, favorite books, expectations about the class, favorite movies, music, number of hours worked, special information that would help them succeed in the class, favorite subject in high school, plan of study, and more. Answers to the questionnaire are later discussed with the class in terms of averages and areas of interest. Often students make connections with each other when they hear commonalties.
Let the students know what you want them to call you. "Miss," "Mr.," "Mrs.," "Ms.," "First Name," "Professor," or "Dr." are the choices most commonly agreed upon. Remember, some students will not feel comfortable being required to call you by your first name based on cultural background or prior educational experience, so it’s recommended that they are not forced to do so.
Announce your boundaries for communication. For example, I give a separate e-mail address to my students than my home address and let them know that they may not Spam me, add me to chain e-mail lists, send me unsolicited or unidentified attachments, nor add me to their instant message buddy lists without prior permission.
Walk your talk: Model the behaviors you expect of your students.
Allow students to form a list of expectations they have for you, the instructor. This activity will most likely aid in the classroom sense of fairness and serve to prevent later challenges to fairness and or documentation issues by students.
Making Connections: Student-to-Student
Research into student retention suggests that students drop out of college most frequently citing lack of connection as the key factor.
For more suggestions, you might consult with your staff development office for books on team building exercises or search the Internet for "ice breaker" activities.
Helping Students Learn to Be College Students
The following table identifies some common positive and negative behaviors that provide students with a guide for managing themselves as students. You might wish to distribute this list to your class at the time you discuss your syllabus or set class norms as a group. Feel free to modify this list as needed for your students.
Positive Impression Givers
Book on desk, pencil or pens ready
Note taking or recording the lecture/class with permission from the instructor
Ask questions that are appropriate
Make an effort to maintain eye contact
Sit where you can see and be attentive
Submit assignments on time, ask if there is supplemental material you can explore to better complete your assignments such as video titles or other materials
Help your classmates whenever possible
Make certain you understand assignments when assigned
Save announcements about necessary absences for before or after class
Refrain from doing other course work or paying bills in class
When using the Internet in class, stay on task rather than surfing for fun
Give the instructor the respect you wish to be treated with
Don’t interrupt, belittle, or put down fellow students
Keeping an open mind when issues arise you disagree with. Disagreeing with dignity.
Make certain you pay your fees for enrollment and get your text on the first day of class
Be positive with expectations of success in the course
Know the instructor’s name and call them only what they prefer to be called – ask if necessary
Spell the class, instructor, and assignment name correctly on all submitted work
Negative Impression Givers
Picking face, nose, grooming, knuckle cracking, nail filing or cleaning teeth
Heavy sighs, eye rolling
Laughing AT the instructor rather than WITH the class
Leaving early without letting the instructor know ahead of time
Frequent tardiness or absences
Distracting noises: foot tapping, nail biting, pen twirling/tapping, yawning w/o covering your mouth, mumbling, zipping up bags to indicate you want the class to end, paper tearing, paper toy making, etc.
Head on desk to indicate boredom
Staring at the clock or your watch
Skipping assignments and/or breaking assignment policy, handing in shoddy, unstapled, ripped out pages that show no care for the assignment
Refer to sexual situations inappropriately in assignments (unless it’s asked for in the assignment such as a human sexuality class)
Frequently forget text and notebook
Attempt to be class clown inappropriately; a joke here and there is fine, but repetitious clowning is distracting
Squinting or face making to show disapproval
Note passing or hand signals to others
Interrupting the instructor to ask what you missed when you were absent or if you missed anything "important"
Acting as if the class or topic of discussion is irrelevant or stupid – if you really feel so, drop the class
Leaving your belongings where they inconvenience others
Tipping in your chair
Planning for the First Day of Class
by Jack Ullom
Preparing for the First Class Meeting
As the first day of class approaches, your attention will turn to the logistics that will make your class run smoothly throughout the semester or term.
• At Least One Week Before the First Day of Class (or as soon as possible)
o Find the building and visit the classroom.
o Find the restrooms.
o Obtain a key to the classroom and any computer/audiovisual cabinets.
o Check textbook orders in bookstore.
Prepare printed materials that students will purchase.
Plan for any special supplies needed for class.
o Make sure web-sites used to support your class are still active.
Ask department members to recommend sites they find helpful.
o Make arrangements for classroom audiovisual equipment.
o Check the operation of overhead projector, computer or VCR (recheck right before class).
o Learn about the college library reserve system and place books on reserve in the library as needed.
o Find out your department's enrollment management policies and forms, (e.g. if the class does/does not fill, add/drop, wait-listing students).
o Check the sound and carry of your voice in the classroom.
o Make sure that your handwriting on the board is clear and readable from the back of the room. If it is not, plan to use transparencies or Power Points.
o Be prepared to deal with your specific student population. For example, if a significant number of your students are likely to have Spanish surnames, learn how to pronounce common names for that group correctly.
On the First Day of Class
First impressions tend to be lasting impressions. Strive to convey organization, preparedness and enthusiasm.
• Try to arrive in the classroom before your students and organize your handouts, roll sheet, recheck equipment functionality, and other materials.
• Put your name on the board for students to see as they come in.
• If there is additional material to be written on the board, try to do so before students arrive, if appropriate and not distracting to student involvement in the lesson. Notes should be written/ taken in context.
• Greet students as they enter the classroom.
• Breathe. Understand and accept that being nervous is quite normal.
• Let students know when you'll handle enrollment issues such as signing add/drops.
• Show a human side.
o Share information about yourself such as the history behind your teaching career and other professional activities.
o Share any activities or connections you have with the community outside of your teaching, and any hobbies or other special interests which you enjoy.
o Make these comments brief. (If you have students introduce themselves in pairs, have a student introduce you.)
• Get to know your students.
o Immediately try to associate names with faces.
o Allow students to introduce themselves.
Ask about career and educational goals.
Inquire about their expectations of the class.
o Have students write what they want to be called on a folded card and put it on the edge of their desk.
o If you have a digital camera asks students to hold their plaque and take their picture. Be very sensitive to students who may not want their picture taken. You must have their permission.
• Avoid making apologies for any lack of teaching experience. Your enthusiasm for the subject matter and your ability to engage students is more important than experience.
• Use an icebreaker to initiate the exchange of information.
Class Structure, Tone and Expectations
Probably the most important function of the first day of class is to provide students with the structure and expectations of the class.
• Review the syllabus completely.
o You might have students do a paired exercise to discuss the syllabus or give an ungraded syllabus quiz.
o Identify and describe textbooks, lab materials or supplies.
• Make your academic and behavioral expectations very clear.
o Describe the organization and scope of content of the class.
If appropriate, you may have planned to let your students identify key topics they want to discuss late in the semester. If you have done this, you will want to discuss the intent of this plan and how students will be engaged in the design of the course.
o Explain attendance policies and ground rules for class interaction (see box below).
o Explain to students that you will frequently offer them learning strategies for your content. And, that it will be helpful for them to pay particular attention to learning strategies in addition to course content.
Remember that we learn best when doing, applying or teaching content. Get students involved in this process.
• Be honest about the skills needed to succeed in the class and identify college and community resources available to support student success.
o Describe any prerequisites for the course.
o Give time estimates for study and assignments.
o Suggest some study strategies that may help students succeed.
• Clearly explain the grading system.
• Make sure students know how to reach you.
o Review your contact information, including office hours and location, email, phone and fax numbers.
o Do what you can to dispel the myth that a visit to your office, or other attempt to contact you, will automatically signal to you that they are in trouble.
• Review safety precautions.
o If your course requires laboratory or fieldwork, demonstrate the procedures for using equipment and supplies safely.
In ongoing classes, large visuals, such as posters, can be a better learning cue than a verbal reminder.
o Discuss emergency procedures in the event of an accident, illness or natural disaster.
• Encourage questions and allow frequent opportunities for students to ask them. Remember that some students need reflection opportunities before they will know what they want to ask. Anonymous questions on 3 x 5 cards or post-its can be very helpful.
Learner-Centered Ground Rules for Conduct
by Lisa Rodriguez
This process need not exclude faculty preferences that can be inserted at the end of the process. Here is a list of typical ground rules that students might agree upon:
• Start and end class on time
• One speaker at a time
• Everyone participates
• Keep an open mind
• Focus on "what" and not "who"
• No "zingers" or put downs
• No one dominates discussions
• Share "air time"
• Be an active listener
• Create a safe zone
• Stay on track/topic
• Agree only if it makes sense to do so
• Create an open atmosphere where dialogue between the students and you is encouraged. Students appreciate immediate feedback.
• Take two minutes the first day to have students write reactions from the first day, perhaps on the back of that same 3 X 5 card or anonymously if you like.
• Assess your students’ comprehension of the class material during each class session and more formally within the first two weeks.
• Spend some time each class period for approximately two weeks identifying issues that commonly stand in the way of student success and help students learn how to overcome them.
• Create the atmosphere that you feel is conducive to optimum learning of your content material. Keep in mind how people learn as you do this).
• Demonstrate that time in the class is important by engaging students in substantive material, such as a paired discussion of the syllabus, or a reading, while completing administrative tasks, such as taking role. Do not end the first class early in order to send students off to purchase the textbook.
• Students will appreciate your interest in their learning and if you follow many of the suggestions presented here, they will have begun taking an active part in that learning.
Top Five Classroom Management
Strategies – They Really Work
Strategies for Good Classroom Management
Five Top Strategies to Keep Students Learning in a Calm Classroom Environment
Strategy number 5 – Keep the lesson moving. If you have a forty-five minute period, plan three different activities. Try to get them up out of their seats at least once during the class period. Those students with pent up energy will thank you for it.
Strategy number 4 – Don’t lecture for the whole period. Students who are actively engaged in a learning activity are generally not disrupting the class. Hands-on activities work great for vivacious classrooms.
Strategy number 3 – Talk to your students. If you see them in the hall, in the cafeteria or at the grocery store, ask them how they are. If you see a student in the local newspaper, congratulate them.
Strategy numbers 2 – When students are being disruptive by talking, poking, pulling or crumpling paper, go stand by them. This works best with boys. I have taught from the back of the room by the orneriest boys. This sends them a direct message to stop what they are doing. Most of the time they stop and get back to work.
Strategy number 1 – When you have stood by the student, talked to the student and kept them busy with lessons, and they still are disruptive, take them in the hallway. Ask them, “Are you OK?” It has been my experience that they crumble and tell you that they had a fight with their parents, didn’t get up on time or are having other issues.