Before last semester, most of my teaching experience came from Karate. For the first few years of my undergrad, 2 friends and I taught 3 classes a week of Shito-Ryu Karate Do and Taekwondo. We were all black belts, all women, and except for me, all under 5’3″. It was fun, but every so often a new student would come who couldn’t get over being taught by people half his size. We learned to know the signs: the student would hit lower-ranked students harder than necessary in drills, interrupt us when we’re teaching, preen during warm-ups.
We had a teacher-meeting to discuss a strategy to make these visiting students less disruptive. We decided whenever we suspected someone was going to try to take a chunk out of our class on their ego-trip, we would spend the first 30 minutes doing calisthenics. This:
- Left the visitors too tuckered out to make much trouble,
- Demonstrated that we, the teachers, were in better fighting shape than the visitor without us having to brag, or as I did in one case, chase him around the room during a sparring practice until he gave up.
- Was a good work-out.
Starting to teach my class last semester, I found a few students always came in with classroom versions of the same behaviors: they would criticize other students more harshly than necessary, interrupt while I was teaching, sit in the back and make snarky faces.
But I couldn’t give my disruptive classroom students laps.
Instead, I usually do a combination of the following things. Before anything else though, I try to remember that their behavior is coming out of fear about their careers, a miss-shaped ego, and probably my own lack of having made clear how my class should feel. Ok, here are my other strategies:
- Meet with the student outside of class, so they can work through any tantrums without disrupting the other students.
- Refer them to a higher power, ie, one of the offices at CMU that can handle issues outside of my scope–financial aid, counseling and psychological services (CAPS), a career consultant, anyone who’s better at molding drama into growth.
- If they’re bubbling up in class and there’s no way I can lance that boil before it touches the other students, I come up with an excuse to work with each student individually–I do this at the end of every class anyway, so that I get a feel for where everyone is, but I spend extra time with folks going through a rough patch–and go sit and quietly talk them through the problem.
I find it takes about 3 weeks of once-weekly class meetings for everyone to get a feel for the tone of the class. I make sure every class has an identical structure (job search check-ins where I ask sample interview questions about the job they applied for that week, a workshop on the topic of the week, one-on-ones) which lets me easily slot the entire class from activity to activity without much fuss.
The disruptive students are few and far between, but I like having some way of dealing with them other than making them do laps.
“Remember upon the conduct of each depends the fate of all.”–Alexander the Great