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We’re almost a month into the fall semester at this point. It’s likely that you’ve encountered some problematic student behavior that is really frustrating you. Or maybe you’re feeling constantly low-key angry in class, but can’t put your finger on what exactly is bothering you. In either case, today’s post is all about figuring out what student behavior is upsetting you and coming up with solutions that will decrease your negative feelings.

Today's post is a quick one that's all about figuring out what student behavior is upsetting you and coming up with solutions that will decrease your negative feelings. #edutwitter Share on X

What Behaviors Bother You?

The first step to stop being frustrated, angry, anxious, etc. in response to your students is to figure out what student behavior is pinging your “I’m not happy about this” radar. I suggest sitting down after each class you teach for a week or two. Open up your teaching journal and write down a list of examples from class of anything – small or large – that bothered you during that class period.

Were there four students in the back-left of the class that kept whispering to each other during your lecture?

Was a student in the back of the class seemingly listening to music on their phone while the class was supposed to be watching a video on the projector screen?

Did a student leave to go to the bathroom and come back 10 minutes later?

Just sit down and write out what bothered you. Then, next to each problematic student behavior on your list, rate just how upset you were by that action. Use a 1-5 system and come up with the equivalent feeling(s) for each. For example: 1 = I noticed it enough to write it on this list of problematic behaviors, but *shrug* it wasn’t too annoying. 5 = I stopped the class, told the student(s) to stop what they were doing, and was angry the rest of the class period.

Since you’re taking these notes for 1-2 weeks of classes, also count up how many times the same behavior was repeated on your lists. For example, was at least one student texting in class each day during this time period or did it only happen once? Was whispering a chronic problem or a rare one? And so forth.

Once you have your behaviors, ratings, and patterns written out, it’s time to decide just how much of a problem each student behavior is.

Is It Actually a Problem?

Another possible title for this section is, “Why does this behavior bother you?” Looking at your list of problematic student behavior, give some thought to why you’ve added each action to the list. For example, let’s say you noticed that a few students sent texts while in class each day. And let’s say you ranked that as a “4” on your upset-scale. Why does this behavior upset you so much?

Is it because they were texting while completing a graded assignment, so you were stressing about whether they were cheating or not?

Do you just see it as disrespectful that they text during class?

Are you worried they are so distracted that they’ll miss important details from your lecture or class discussion?

Once you know why each behavior upsets you (and why it upsets you so much or so little), you can more easily decide whether or not it’s a problem that you should be spending your emotional energy on. Or, perhaps if it’s a problem at all.

Here’s an example from my own experiences:

I used to get very frustrated when students would text while I was lecturing. I rarely lecture in my courses, so if I’m spending the time on this type of teaching approach, it’s for a very good reason. And yet, lectures seem to always cause a few students to pick up and put down their phones every few minutes. Whenever that happened, I could feel myself getting frustrated because I knew these students likely missed out on hearing information that would appear on an exam or would be super helpful for their homework assignment.

But interrupting my lecture to tell them to stop using their phones was taking away from the flow of my lectures and interrupting the other students’ learning experience. So, I eventually realized that it wasn’t my job to make sure these students were not using their phone. Their college students. Young adults. It was their responsibility to pay attention and only use their phones when absolutely necessary. If they missed questions on an exam or didn’t complete an activity correctly because they were messing about on their phone in class and not checking in with me or a classmate to ask about what they missed, that’s on them, not me.

Plus, these students might have very good reasons for being on their phone. How would I know in the moment? Unless I asked them to air their reasons on the spot in front of their classmates, which I’m not going to do. I’ve had students apologize for their cell use after class, explaining about a father’s surgery, a wife going into labor soon, an anxious awaiting in regard to a job they interviewed for and really need. So here I am getting angry about cell phone use, and yet if I had known the reasons beforehand, it wouldn’t have bothered me at all.

My negative emotions were not helping anyone and realizing that made all the difference.

So basically, cell phone usage in class has become something I’ve largely ignored in my classrooms. Sure, if a student is staring at their phone for 5 minutes while they are supposed to be taking part in an individual or group activity, I’ll pass by them and tell them to put away the phone unless it’s an emergency. But, if it’s not some “extreme” example like that, I just let it go. It no longer frustrates me, because I’ve been able to acknowledge that I can’t control every students’ attention in class and I can’t really know their motivations for being on their phones.

So, again, go down your list and narrow it down to the behaviors that are truly a problem that you need to deal with because (a) you can’t stop getting upset about it or (b) it’s causing a problem with other students who are not behaving in that same way.

What Are the Solutions?

Of course, once you know what problems exist and why they exist, the next step is to find solutions for those problems. This step will vary greatly depending on how high the behavior ranks on your upset-scale, how common it is amongst your students, and how strong the negative effects are on your students. So, take the time to come up with solutions, especially solutions that can solve more than one problem or that are very easy to put into place.

A couple examples:

Problematic Student Behavior: Surfing the web on their laptops while they are supposed to be completing a digital assignment.

Solution: Have students turn their desk around to face the back of the classroom. In this way, you can see everyone’s screen from the front of the class where you are sitting or standing.

Problematic Student Behavior: Talking amongst themselves while you are lecturing.

Solution: 1. Moving members of cliques to different seats. 2. Calling on talking students to answer questions about the lecture, making it clear to all students that talking while you lecture will cause you to ask them questions.

If you can’t come up with a solution to a certain problem, ask your coworkers and advisors for their advice, ask on Twitter using hashtags like “academictwitter” and “edutwitter,” or do some research online or in the pedagogy section of your library. You could also ask for advice in the comment section below.

But, don’t forget another great resource: your students!

Take the time to discuss with them the problematic behavior you’re seeing. See if they are able to change your mind about whether or not it should be considered a problem. Ask for solution suggestions. See if there are ways to compromise. If Midterm Chats are an option on your campus, do one. Don’t suffer in silence or take such a hard line that your students don’t feel comfortable in their relationship with you.

Final Thoughts

I hope this exercise helps decrease any frustration or anger you’re feeling at the moment towards your students. Problematic student behavior can be really hard to deal with. There’s no perfect solution each time or for all your students. But if you’re in-class experiences this semester have been really upsetting you, make sure to take the time to reflect, come up with a game plan, and/or ask for help.

Comment below: What problematic student behavior have you found solutions to? Make sure to include the solution in your answer!

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Struggling with frustration or anger towards your students because of how they are acting in class? Here are some steps to take to figure out what's wrong and come up with solutions. #education #classroommanagement