3 Strategies for Helping Disruptive Students

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:

  1. Left the visitors too tuckered out to make much trouble,
  2. 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.
  3. 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:

  1. Meet with the student outside of class, so they can work through any tantrums without disrupting the other students.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.

Inspirational Quote:

“Remember upon the conduct of each depends the fate of all.”–Alexander the Great

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