University of Minnesota
Office of Human Resources

How Do I Deal with Disruptive Behavior in the Classroom?

Online Resources

The Office for Student Conduct and Academic Integrity has campus-wide responsibility for administering matters arising form student conduct on campus. Their site provides information on how to file a student conduct complaint and has a useful section on "Frequently Asked Questions."

Additional Tips

  • Avoid publicly embarrassing students who are disturbing the class with private conversations, sleeping, making a commotion with books, etc. Statements such as "If the students in the back of the room would stop acting like kindergartners, we could proceed with the class" annoy everyone.

    Even though the other students may be disturbed by the behavior of these students, publicly embarrassing the disruptive students will make the other students angry at YOU. Instead, follow the suggestions in the preceding article: stand near the offending student(s), or talk to the student(s) privately.

  • Handle the disruptions with positive statements whenever possible. If a student emits a loud groan, respond with something such as, "It sounds like I may have confused some of you. Thanks for the heads-up. Why don't you take a moment to look over your notes and see where you have questions."
  • Framing the issue in a positive light is important when talking to students privately as well. Research on incivilities in the classroom ("Advice to New Faculty," Robert Boice, Allyn and Bacon, 2000) indicates that faculty who are able to respond to student incivilities in a positive and respectful manner have far fewer such incidences than faculty who responded negatively (e.g., responded with threats or guilt induction).

Cross-cultural Notes

U.S. society tends to be individualistic and informal. Casual dress, eating or drinking in class, arriving late or leaving early are not necessarily signs of disrespect. The key in deciding whether you need to address an issue with a student is to determine whether the behavior is disturbing others. If you decide you must intervene, talk to the student privately before or after class.