higher education / Teaching Tips

College classroom behavior problems can stem from many factors

My last post about discipline problems in the college classroom received a response from Joan Azarva, a college learning specialist who provides counseling student students with LD or ADD —  http://www.conquercollegewithld.com/ Let me share her comments (in green) and then my thoughts:

In my humble opinion, the students with LD are usually very meek and reluctant to engage with the teacher or classmates. They are the LEAST likely to be the wise guys of the class. In fact, one of their problems is that they are TOO passive.

ADD comes in 2 varieties – attentive and inattentive. I grant you, if there is an inattentive ADD student in a class, there may be some inappropriate interruptions. But I’ve met just as many “attentive” students who sit quietly, but their minds are a million miles away. They are there in body. I guess they are called “attentive” b/c they are not hyperactive.

Personally, I attribute college behavior issues with the fact that students are terribly disrespectful in HS and get away with it – in fact, they see it as “normal”. When I insist upon being on time to class, students will tell me I’m too “fussy” – what’s the big deal? Who runs the classroom? What gives students the right to change the rules established by the “expert”?

Too many students enter college thinking they already know it all. They are closed to learning new strategies and skills, and will fight you at every turn. They did little HW or studying in HS, so they start college with the same poor work ethic/attitude.

This is a societal problem – please be careful about attributing it to students with LD, most of whom are trying desperately to succeed against a college system that sets them up to fail from day one.

I agree with Joan on several points.

Lack of study skills – The University of Florida prides itself on having top students. Yet, as Joan says, many of those students arrive at college with very weak study skills. In talking with students who are doing poorly in my class (and often other classes, too), students often tell me they never had to study in high school and don’t know how to. And some liked the no-studying-required approach to good grades. Some of those students become antagonistic about having to make adjustments in their non-classroom time to be better prepared for class.

“But I’ve always made As.” – That’s a line we hear from many of our students. They’ve been told they were excellent writers since grade school. They now are majoring in a writing-based course, so they expect to make As. Some have a hard time accepting that they must learn a new writing style. Yes, they may be able to write an outstanding essay, but they must write a news story or a news release for my class. As Joan says, some would rather NOT learn something new and stay with high grades for repetitive performance of what has been successful in the past. Those students can become angry, as they displace their frustration on their performance to targeting you, the teacher.

What is appropriate classroom behavior? – Joan notes that some students find her too “fussy” about classroom issues, like being on time to class. I agree with Joan that this is a big factor in terms of classroom behavior problems.

One semester, I had three gals in an auditorium class who sat together and would talk to each other. It was distracting to their classmates and to me. I tried several ways to address the issue —  giving “the look,” stopping talking until they realized I was waiting for them, and having a talk with them (in what I thought was a friendly manner) privately after class. They did talk less after my conversation with them but scowled. In my course evaluations, I had three evaluations that were together in the envelope that included in the section where they could write comments: “I’ve paid my tuition, and I can talk in class if I want to.” In addition, all three gave me low scores on every category. So they got me.

Those large auditorium courses can give students a different perspective on classroom behavior. Attendance may not be taken. The instructor may be too overwhelmed to take on issues like students being tardy to class, leaving early, texting during class, or talking. The instructor doesn’t know who they are by name, so they have no consequences for their behavior. When students have that experience and then arrive in my classroom, they have developed some bad behaviors that I have to work to change.

I also agree with Joan that some high school situations either promote or don’t adequately address  classroom discipline problems. Having been a high school teacher myself, I know that many factors affect the response to disruptive students.

  • Teachers may give up in dealing with disclipline problems, as when a real problem occurs and they send the students to the principal’s office, the student is right back in class in a few minutes with a “Don’t do that again” reprimand from the principal, emboldening the problem students.
  • Public school finances are based in part on student attendance. Some administrators don’t want to suspend students because the school will lose money. School attendance is a factor in some state-level school performance assessments (such as the FCAT in Florida). So schools are penalized if problem students aren’t at school.
  • The student may have influential parents, so the principal doesn’t want to discipline the student.
    So teachers often learn through their own experiences not to count on school administrators for help in dealing with student discipline problems.
  • Sometimes what is needed is support and action on the part of the student’s parents. I remember my first year of high school teaching and my first phone calls to the parents of my students who either hadn’t been doing their homework or were causing problems in class. I’d already taken several actions myself with the students and was following my college education course advice of getting parents involved. The parents I contacted sounded depressed or annoyed during our phone conversation. One ended the phone call by telling me, “I’ve had to deal with him for 15 years. I’ve tried everything. It’s your turn now.” So teachers often learn through their own experiences not to count on most of the parents for help.

Our challenge as teachers — at whatever grade level — can include dealing with student behavior problems. Those behavior issues not only can affect the problem student’s class performance but the performance of other students in the class and your own outlook and performance as the teacher.

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