Most students behave appropriately and will respect you and their peers. Occasionally, however, one or two can disrupt the tone and rhythm of the class. Such problematic behavior can include talking during lecture or discussion; arriving late or packing up early; sleeping; using cell phones or computers to check email, surf the Internet, or communicate with others inside or outside class; and reading newspapers.

Ignoring bad manners will not make them disappear. And it’s important to realize that students who are paying attention and engaged in classroom interactions will expect you to take action.

  • Before you are faced with them, imagine how you will respond to various kinds of challenges from students, be they about grades, your teaching or authority, or the relevance of the subject matter. Role-play or discuss appropriate responses with other instructors. Consider possible responses to the “critical incidents” shown on DVDs from the Center for Teaching library.

  • Subtle messages often work. So, for instance, if one student seems to frequently dominate discussion, shift eye contact onto another student. If that doesn’t work and the geography of the classroom allows, try moving past the student so your back is to him or her.

  • If subtle hints don’t work, speak privately with the student after class. To the student who dominates class, express your appreciation for such interest and enthusiasm, but remind the student about the value of participation for all students. As the teacher, you are responsible for making sure that limited resources, including time to speak, are distributed fairly.

  • Monitor your own behavior. Do you arrive late and appear disorganized? Do you ever use a sarcastic or condescending tone? Do you ignore or without good reason postpone students’ in-class questions?

  • Occasionally, a student will appear to challenge your authority in class. First ask yourself: Is this student challenging my authority or simply communicating a viewpoint that is unfamiliar or different from mine? What may seem like a blunt or even abrasive manner of communication may not be intended as such by the student.

  • If you decide the student’s behavior is, indeed, directed at you personally or otherwise problematic, try the following to diffuse the situation and reorient everyone’s attention to the learning tasks at hand: “OK, that’s an interesting point, but discussion about it would take us too far off the topic. Let’s talk about it later.”

  • You have a right and the responsibility to ask an excessively disruptive student to leave your classroom, laboratory, or studio. You also may refer a student to the vice president and dean of students. As part of such a referral, you may need to report in writing to the dean any disciplinary action taken against the student.

  • If a student is misbehaving in a manner that threatens or endangers you or the other students, call the University of Iowa Police, or in a clear emergency, 911.

  • If a student challenges you during class about a grade, ask them to write out their complaint and tell him or her you will respond.

  • TAs who need to change a grade should contact their supervising faculty member. Faculty can change reported grades by logging into MAUI, where it may require DEO approval. 

  • Do not use an after-class “hallway chat” to discuss grades with students. Instead, invite students to talk about grades during your office hours. 

  • If you feel the situation—whether about grades or anything else—has not been sufficiently resolved, talk to a supervising faculty member or DEO about the problem.