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Incivility in the classroom

Despite our efforts to maintain a safe and trusting atmosphere, incivilities do occur in the classroom. You can help prevent incivilities not only through classroom atmosphere but through course policies.

Proactive techniques:

In most cases, disruptive behavior is due to bored, restless, or insensitive individuals. The more you can keep your students active and engaged with each other and the course material, the more likely you will be able to minimize these occurrences. Much of this has already been covered in previous sections of this resource guide (see Teaching Strategies).

A second technique that addresses insensitive individuals is to engage the class in a discussion about appropriate and inappropriate behavior on the first day of class. You can certainly bring some “non-negotiables” to the discussion, but in turn, ask them to identify additional concerns or inappropriate behaviors and ask them how to best police these types of behaviors. You will find that they can be just as hard on themselves—if not harder, than you would have expected. This also helps develop some “buy-in” you’re your students.

Reactive techniques:

Never call the student out in class. First, address the whole class (or a section of the class) about the disruptive behavior-- not the individual(s). And remind them about the policy that you co-developed with them in the beginning of the semester. Second, if the behavior persists, try to arrange an opportunity for you to meet with the "transgressor(s)" outside of class. When you tale with them, give them the benefit of the doubt as many of them just don't understand how disruptive their behavior is and once it is brought to their attention in a non-threatening way, they will comply. At this point, you should bring it to the attention of your immediate supervisor. If the behavior continues, invite a third party into your class to observe and corroborate.

An ounce of prevention is a pound of cure. So it would behoove you to familiarize yourself with The Faculty Guide to Student Conduct in Instructional Settings document

Lastly, you will on rare occasions be confronted with a student who has a legitimate psychological and/or emotional problem that is so severe that it becomes disruptive at least, or threatening at worst. Besides consulting The Faculty Guide to Student Conduct in Instructional Settings mentioned above, consider referring these students to our University Counseling Services http://www.students.vcu.edu/counseling/

Virginia Commonwealth University  |  Center for Teaching Excellence
Last updated: 06/20/2013
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