Feb 08
Managing Disruptive Behaviour in the Shop or Classroom

Unexpected or inappropriate student behaviour can throw the best lesson plan off track. How to respond? How to recover? 

STORM max-larochelle-421822-unsplash.jpgThis week we're crowdsourcing your tips and tricks for pulling things back into line when you're thrown a non-teaching-related curve ball by your students. For example, what do you do or how do you respond when…

  • Repeated flatulence lets loose?
  • Chewing gum is smacked loudly during your lecture?
  • Excessive body odour permeates the air?
  • A pen cap is clicked on and off during a test?
  • Side conversations are happening while you're talking?
  • Phones are being used during a book-based group activity

Our students are adults and, ideally, collaborators in our teaching for learning. Within that context, then, what does corrective action look like in your shop or classroom? We've had several inquiries from readers about how to handle the issues noted above and we're keen to learn from you.


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Photo by Max Larochelle from Unsplash.com 


What a topic! 

I've found...

What a topic! 

I've found the following tactic useful when addressing side conversations in class.  As I am delivering the class material, I walk over and stand next to the students that are talking, and I linger there while speaking and panning the room with my gaze.  I do not interrupt my speaking, I do not stare the students down, I am just changing my location in the classroom in a relaxed manner unfazed manner.  It's had a 100% success rate thus far.
Picture Placeholder: Lindsay Mulholland
  • Lindsay Mulholland
 on 2/8/2019 10:52 AM

Excellent topic! I try to d...

Excellent topic! I try to deal with side conversations with humour. I tell students at the beginning of a course that they shouldn't talk while I'm saying something 'important'. I tell them they they can be the judge of whether what I'm saying is important. I then tell them not to worry about misjudging the importance of what I'm saying. I tell them I'll let them know if they're wrong. That usually generates som laughter. When students do 'forget' the rule, I interrupt their 'conversation' (if I notice it and it goes on for more than a few seconds) and say, in a fatherly (sports coach) way, "Terry, I NEED you back." I'll often beckon them with both of my wide open arms like I want them come into my house on a cold day. It took some time, but I think I've perfected the tone of my voice so it sounds heartfelt and funny at the same time. Often, students laugh along and the 'offending' student seems to not mind (Who doesn't want to be NEEDED). If the problem persists, I ask the student(s) to leave the class for 5 minutes in the friendliest tone I can. It usually doesn't get that far but some students need the 'carrot' AND the 'stick'.
Picture Placeholder: Andrew Warren
  • Andrew Warren
 on 2/8/2019 10:57 AM

Regarding the body odour si...

Regarding the body odour situation. That has been a problem in my past experience. I have addressed it in several ways. One way is to connect the idea of offensive body odour, bad breath and unwashed clothes to interviews and on the job behaviours. I ask students to respond to questions such as, what would your boss do if another employee complained about one of the above examples? What would happen if your boss had to address this with you? What would you do?  Additionally, some of the examples in the blog may be culturally related. I have worked with international students and talked about body odour from the employment perspective and Canadian culture. I have also dealt with it from a Red River College policy of a scent free environment. When bringing up this topic I point out that offensive body odour and cigarette smoke scent fall into this category and it is not following the scent free policy.
Picture Placeholder: Kathleen Tisdale
  • Kathleen Tisdale
 on 2/8/2019 12:10 PM

When one is trapped in a sm...

When one is trapped in a small classroom with students and smells become an issue, I find it helpful to address this at the start of a course in a humorous way when going through day one stuff.  "We are stuck in here together and one person can make it pretty unpleasant for the rest of the group.  Please shower several times a week, and if you need to use the washroom while I'm teaching, please excuse yourself to do so.  Nobody wants to be 'that guy'..."

If the problem arises during the classes following, I would dismiss the whole class for a break, saying that there are some unpleasant odors that are causing some distraction, please deal with them.  That way no one student is singled out.  My co-worker, on the other hand, has the ability to banter a little more with the students, and would straight out say, "You guys stink!  Everybody out".

What I would like some help with, is tactfully dealing with a tricky situation that arises when someone has made a distracting clothing choice.  Male or female, it is one of those issues that needs to be handled correctly, so that the students don't take offence.  My male co-workers have an even trickier time, especially when a female student has made a distracting clothing choice.  Any thoughts?  I have had a group conversation with the whole class, but sometimes the student doesn't realize that their choice of clothing is causing a problem.
Picture Placeholder: Aubrey S Doerksen
  • Aubrey S Doerksen
 on 2/8/2019 12:32 PM

Aubrey: I wonder if the clo...

Aubrey: I wonder if the clothing issue could be dealt with at the front-end of the program (or course) by making 'dress code' a policy-based matter -- similar to what Kathleen (Kerrie) Tisdale says in her comment above about body odour. So, in your case, maybe approaching it something like: "In our trade, the dress code is about safety and security of our person. We wear steel-toe boots to protect our feet, eye protection for our eyes, and we need to protect our skin by wearing long sleeves and pants - always." Not sure this if gets at what the problem is with 'distracting' clothing - does it?
Picture Placeholder: Amanda  Le Rougetel
  • Amanda Le Rougetel
 on 2/11/2019 8:59 AM

Yes, I think the front-end ...

Yes, I think the front-end approach is always a good one. 

I'm thinking about clothing that fits within the dress code, but the girl may not realize that a shirt which is appropriate in other situations is gaping at the neck when hand sawing.  Or the guy who wears his pants low doesn't realize that it becomes inappropriate when crouching in the shop to fit doors on a cabinet.  At this point it becomes something that I need to deal with individually.  I feel bad when it is my male co-workers who notice something and feel they can't address it without being seen as a creep for noticing.  I have offered to field some of these conversations with girls for them but it is still awkward.
Picture Placeholder: Aubrey S Doerksen
  • Aubrey S Doerksen
 on 2/11/2019 11:07 AM

Awkward. Oh, yes. These top...

Awkward. Oh, yes. These topics are definitely awkward! But maybe especially when it's about clothing choices, we need to approach the conversation as if it were a genuine favour for the student -- if clothing choices are challengingly inappropriate in school, imagine the problems that those same poor clothing choices could pose for the student once they're employed out there in a business. I'm not saying these conversations are ever easy, but I can sometimes motivate myself to have that tough talk by reminding myself of the long-term positive impact I'm trying to achieve. A tip I received from a wise colleague has helped me on many occasions: Open with a statement that acknowledges the awkwardness or the nervousness or the difficulty of the topic you're broaching, then proceed with a carefully planned few sentences. Allow the student (or employee) the chance to respond early in the conversation - don't go all preachy and lecture-y on them. Make it a conversation. ...I have been surprised sometimes at how the other person was genuinely totally clueless about the issue I was raising. And, in the end, they appreciated my taking the chance to raise it. Awkward though it was. 
Picture Placeholder: Amanda  Le Rougetel
  • Amanda Le Rougetel
 on 2/11/2019 1:56 PM