Teacher workshops aim to tackle disruptive student behavior in the classroom

Illustration by Casey Kleeb

There are students who blurt rude comments in class. There are students who think they know more than the professor, when at times they don’t. But what does a professor do when faced with a real troublemaker? It’s not as though the student can be sent to the principal’s office.

Does the professor just turn a blind eye and hope it stops? Or should the student be confronted?

The Dean of Students Office hosts various disruptive student workshops designed for faculty and staff, where they learn to identify types of disruptive behaviors and develop strategies to address them efficiently.

“When we get a complaint from a faculty member, we don’t want to hear, ‘Well, it’s been going on for 12 weeks, and now I want this student out of my class,’” said Michael Turner, professor of counseling for the Dean of Students Office.

These issues stem past texting or sleeping in class. The focus is on issues like intoxication, bullying and possession of weapons. There is also focus on individuals who pretend to be students.

“Last year we had a fella just come in out of nowhere and decided he wasn’t going to leave. It took three policemen and a major effort to remove him from class,” Turner said. “He was not a student. That was very frightening.”

This year, the Dean of Students Office has already received 70 disruptive student reports from faculty and 25 reports from students.

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“You, as a student, should be able to go to your class and be in a positive, constructive learning environment — not be afraid, not be bullied, not be intimidated, not be assaulted. Students have every right to report disruptive students to the dean’s office,” Turner said.

Turner is the first point of contact for faculty members faced with these issues. His goal is to quickly resolve problems with students, not expel them. He instead focuses on correcting behavior so the student can have success in college. However, if these attempts fail, he refers cases to Michael Votava, assistant director of student conduct for the Dean of Students Office.

“Verbal directive is the most minimal way to address the behavior. If it persists, we move forward with a written directive or have a teacher’s conference with the student,” Votava said.

According to Votava, there are typically two or three annual reports of students who decide to come to class under the influence of alcohol. Sometimes it’s because they are too nervous to give a speech in class or just had a bad day.

“I encourage faculty and staff members to always call university police, because it’s difficult to determine how much alcohol the students have consumed. If the faculty simply dismisses the student, they will show up under the influence in another class,” Votava said.

Votava is part of the Dean of Students Office care team, which reviews reports about students of concern. The team plans to launch a new campaign in a couple months to inform all faculty, staff and students on how to submit reports about disruptive students.

There will always be disruptive students, but Votava assures that the team will do all they can to deal with it and make UAA a safe environment for faculty, staff and students.