Difficult students are a potential problem for every faculty member. This is why it’s important to learn ways to deal with inappropriate or disruptive student behavior. In an email interview with The Teaching Professor, Brian Van Brunt, director of the Counseling and Testing at Western Kentucky University, and Perry Francis, professor of counseling at Eastern Michigan University, addressed some of the key issues involving these types of students.

What are some common behaviors of difficult students?

Brian: Some behaviors that I have experienced in the classroom that I would consider disruptive often center on inattentive behaviors and those indicating a poor sense of classroom motivation. Here the students are surfing on their laptops, checking their phones for text messages, or generally not paying attention to the lecture at hand. More serious disruptive behaviors have involved students who directly and persistently challenge my authority in the classroom or seek to disagree with points in the lecture merely to make their own unrelated points.

Perry: The common behavior I see is chronic tardiness to class. These are the students who are perpetually late and as they come in, usually find the one seat in the room that causes the most disruption as he or she settles in. Other disruptive behaviors have included side conversations, monopolizing the discussion with your own agenda, electronic issues (cell phones, PDA, inappropriate laptop usage, etc.), and leaving early without discussing it with the instructor.

Are there certain difficult or disruptive behaviors that are becoming more prevalent among college students?

Brian: I think the inattentive behaviors mentioned above are the most common for students to demonstrate in the classroom. These are often followed quickly by either rude or disrespectful behavior or what I would consider a general lack of civility and manners in the classroom.

Perry: There has been an increase in a lack of respect and common manners towards each other and the instructor. This comes out in classroom discussion, private conversations between the instructor and the student, and a lack of a willingness to meet someone halfway.  … Read More