5.3 Dealing with Difficult Students
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At some point in your career as a class teacher you may have to deal with a student who causes disruption in the class or who does not meet his/her course-related obligations, such as handing in assignments, attending classes regularly, etc. Although each case will be different, you will need to take some steps. Here are a few tips:
- If a student who is on the class register does not attend the first class/classes, check that your class register is up to date and, if so, contact the student to remind them they should be attending class, informing them of your office hours in case they wish to come and discuss the course/classes they have missed with you. Typically, students will respond to this and start attending more regularly. If such encouragement is ineffective, then alert the student's tutor/other appropriate member of staff about the matter, copying in the student.
- If a student does not submit the required assignments, then contact the student and give them a reminder and, if appropriate, a final deadline for submitting work. Be flexible and understanding if a student is facing some particular personal or academic difficulty, but maintain a level playing field for the whole group. If failure to submit coursework persists, alert the student's tutor and copy the student.
- Familiarise yourselves with the regulations relating to course assessment so as to advise students accordingly.
- If a student causes disruption in class, for example is rude, aggressive to other students, uncooperative etc, then you have to decide whether the level of class disruption is such as to necessitate intervention (asking the student to stop or, in extreme cases, to leave the room), or it is sufficient to speak to the student later, outside class, about the matter. If you ask the student to leave the classroom, then contact the student's tutor and the undergraduate/graduate tutor directly after the class and explain what occurred. Take care not to offend or humiliate any student in front of his peers, even if his/her behaviour is very challenging.
- Different class groups taught by the same GTA may have different atmospheres. Some may be boisterous and loud, while others may be quieter. It is inevitable that the mix of student personalities and that of the class teacher will jointly determine the atmosphere in the classroom. Sometimes a simple solution is to move a student to a different class group, if possible.
- Keep organised e-mail records for students that cause problems so as to be able to provide an accurate account of the problems at a future date if the need arises.
- Students may try to undermine your authority as class teacher if they perceive you as not being very assertive. Different approaches work for different people but deal with problems professionally as soon as they arise in order to prevent escalation.
- Take time to understand what is motivating the poor attendance/challenging behaviour of students and take steps to encourage and motivate them.
- Ask for advice if faced with problems that you are unsure how to tackle.