The Five Disastrous Mistakes I Made for Managing Disruptive Students
I taught economics at Suleyman Demirel University between 2008 and 2009, a private university located in Almaty, Kazakhstan. This country was once controlled by the Soviet Union before 1991. Kazakhstan inherited the Soviet education system with a strong foundation in mathematics and sciences.
I recently started teaching and used the standard chalk and talk. I taught Production Economics to third year students, which can be a tough course. I used basic differential calculus and introduced students to game theory. The undergraduate students studied topics that professors would cover in graduate schools in the United States. I had five extremely bright students with two possibly being brilliant, and seven male students who were rotten to the core.
The seven horrible students talked in class and usually arrived late. As a late student strolled into the classroom, he would disrupt the entire class by shaking everyone’s hand in his row and greet them before sitting down.
I yelled and screamed at them. I would snap at the late student and would demand to know why he came late and why he must disrupt the whole class as he walked in.
On one Saturday morning, the male students were excessively loud, as if they were throwing a party in the classroom during the lecture. Finally, I became furious as my face erupted into a bright rosy red, and I stormed out of the classroom half way during the lecture.
At that time, I was young and impetuous. Even though I am a little older and a touch wiser, I can still be impetuous on occasion. Nevertheless, I never reflected why these seven male, misbehaving students acted the way they did. During that time, I emulated my U.S. professors who used the traditional teaching methods. We, students, must address the professor with his or her proper title. We were afraid to disrespect the professor or talk in class, unless to ask a question. We did not want to incur the professor’s wrath. Of course, I demanded my students act like the way I acted during my college days. Students must sit quietly at their seats, transcribing their notes, and only occasionally asking the professor questions politely.
I let the frustration and angry simmer inside me. Some days, I wanted to toss my textbooks and white board markers into the trash and quit the teaching profession. However, I always awakened early in the morning, showered, and ate breakfast, dreading the long bus ride to the campus in the morning. Other times, I contemplated about wrapping my hands around one of the bad student’s neck, squeezing the life from him, and quieting his talking forever. Then rationality would invade my head as these questions flashed through my mind. Where would I hide the body? Could I handle the barrage of questions from the administration, and hysterics and tears from the parents? What is prison life like in Kazakhstan? However, I never reflected on why the students could not behave in the classroom.
After reflecting on my classroom behavior, I made five serious mistakes.
First Mistake: I assumed the students possessed a strong foundation of mathematics. Their previous instructors could have passed the bad students hoping never to see them again. I never assessed the mathematics skills of my students. Perhaps, the bad students could not sit quietly and listen to the lecturer speak in an alien language. They felt frustrated sitting in their chairs while the other students surrounding them nodded their heads in understanding. Then the bad students relieved their frustrations by lashing out at me.
Second Mistake: I never nurtured a high-quality relationship with my students. I arrived at the classroom to deliver my lecture and waited in my office during consultation hours. I rarely interacted with my students outside the classroom. I never fostered an atmosphere filled with trust, mutual respect, and harmony (Kilmer 1998). According to Seidman (2005), instructors have fewer discipline problems if they nurture a high-quality relationship.
Third Mistake: Students would prefer the instructor to talk to the disruptive, chatty student after class (Carter and Punyanunt-Carter 2009). Students do not want the instructor to yell at the talking student during class and demand whether the student needs to leave the classroom if he or she must continue their talking (Carter and Punyanunt-Carter 2009).
Fourth Mistake: Instructors especially the inexperienced could be afraid to discipline or punish the student. As in my case, instructors never know whether the administration will back and support the instructor or take the student’s side (Seidman 2005). I should have sat down with the dean and discussed my options. Then if the dean would have agreed, we should have brought the disruptive students to the dean’s office and discussed their classroom behavior.
Fifth Mistake: Students may not know how to behave in a classroom (Kilmer 1998). During Soviet times, the students would never disrespect their professors and authority figures, unless they wanted to work in the freezing labor camps scattered across Siberia. Once communism released its grip on society, the people became free while education transformed into a piece of paper that could be bought as a commodity. Political connections determine students’ future in Kazakhstan, and how far they would rise in a company or government agency. Thus, students have no incentive to do well in their courses. They will graduate and utilize their connections to jump-start their careers.
Since disruptive students were becoming the norm at the university, the dean and faculty should have bonded together and designed a disciplinary plan. I became disturbed when an instructor described his second year students as “very naughty.” I would have taught these students next year if I had stayed at the university. Perhaps, the university should offer a course about classroom behavior, study skills, and study strategies.
Unfortunately, the good students became the victims. They sat in the classroom and wanted to learn while they witnessed the instructor yell and scream at the misbehaving students. Alas, one or several bad students can taint and disrupt the class for everyone – one bad apple spoils the pie. Good students want the instructor to manage the classroom well (Seidman 2005). If good students experience a bad learning environment, they could withdraw from the university. Consequently, a university filled with instructors possessing poor classroom management skills can drop the university’s retention rate (Seidman 2005) as good students (and possibly good instructors) flee the university.
Carter, Stacy L. and Narissra Maria Punyanunt-Carter. 2009. College students’ perceptions of treatment acceptability of how college professors deal with disruptive talking in the classroom. College Student Journal 43(1): 56-8.
Kilmer, Paulette D. 1998. When a few disruptive students challenge an instructor’s plan. Journalism & Mass Communication Educator 53(2): 81-84:
Seidman, Alan. 2005. The learning killer: Disruptive student behavior in the classroom. Reading Improvement 42(1): 40-6.