Disruptive Students? Don’t Start Drinking:
Almost all of the email that I get from teachers across the country is about disruptive students. Students who challenge every single point made in class. Students who value anecdotal experiences over empirical social facts. Students who loudly assert that the teacher is biased, partisan, and a terrible teacher. So what are we to do when a student is hellbent on derailing a class? First, don’t start drinking.
Being shipwrecked has to be the crappiest ways to die. If exposure or sharks don’t kill you, dehydration will. Adrift in the largest body of water in the world you die of thirst. Who says god doesn’t have a sense of humor. Of course, you could drink the salt water, but while it may temporarily make you feel better you are only hastening your demise. The more you drink sea water, the faster you die. Simple as that.
Same is true in classes with disruptive students. A hypercritical student who openly questions your authority and legitimacy raises the anxiety of even the best teachers among us. How can a teacher assuage this anxiety and get his/her legitimacy and authority back? Become unquestionable- un-critique-able (I invented a word). Research your tail off and know your subject matter backwards and forwards. Prepare tirelessly for you class so it’s perfect. And finally, try to filter everything you say in class to be sure that what your saying is accurate. HA! That’ll show the disruptive hypercritical student.
Except doing all of these things, especially the mental double checking of everything said in class, will almost certainly make you sound unconfident. Students, and people in general, are astonishingly well equipped to sniff out bravado and inauthenticity. When you get in your own head about everything you are teaching it makes you sound like you’re faking the funk. It feels as good as drinking saltwater, but it also is just as debilitating. To deal with a disruptive student you almost certainly have to try something that is counter intuitive.
There isn’t a one size fits all solution for disruptive students, but sometimes the best way to handle a student who demands to have their non-sociological non-empirical ideas heard is to get out of the way. This pedagogical Jujitsu works because it takes the pressure of being the expert off your shoulders and makes it your disruptive students burden to bear. Ask the rest of your class to provide the disruptive student with feedback. If the class is unwilling to openly challenge the student ask the class to write an anonymous two minute response paper and then give them to the student. As anyone who has read teaching evaluations knows students can be brutal evaluators. Furthermore, most disruptive students have no idea how they are perceived by their peers. Asking for peer evaluation of the disruptive student will address the problem on both of these fronts.
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