The Professor Who Has Expectations

Taking care of the classroom is not just about standing at the podium giving a lecture or leading a lecture and discussion session with your students. And, it’s not just about grading lots of assignments. Instructors are helping students manage their time, learn material, and offering them opportunities to interact with their peers and the instructor.

Part of the instructor’s responsibility is to maintain the integrity of the classroom, and this might mean a host of things. This means that the instructor provides a clear syllabus that notes the expectations for the class and carefully explains student evaluation. This way the students know exactly what they are assessed on for the class. Another responsibility for the instructor is maintaining a good learning environment for all students. While I’ve blogged previously about emotional labor, codes of conduct, and non-academic misconduct, I do think that this post is different.

The instructor is responsible to all the students to ensure a positive learning environment. The instructor will come to class on time and ready to teach/lead discussion. The instructor will also treat students with respect and encourage learning. In a similar vein, the instructor needs to also ensure that student behavior does not negatively influence other students’ learning or the overall learning environment of the classroom. My syllabus is clear about avoiding multi-tasking, watching videos or the overall misuse of the network per the university guidelines. But, I have now come to realize that I have to add an additional point to my syllabus. Drum roll~ in January my syllabi will now include a sentence about not wearing ear buds or headphones during lecture.

Part of the university experience for students is about the ability to acculturate to department or university norms. Hopefully, these exercises will be useful in the workplace–public speaking skills, writing, critical thinking, and working well with co-workers. A major part of being in an undergraduate program includes working well with others and following the rules, procedures, deadlines, and other expectations regarding student behavior. These norms—be it deadlines for assignments and understanding the importance of managing one’s time or being respectful of one’s peers and instructor are part of the university experience. I certainly do not think it is too much to ask a student to only come to class if they want to do so–especially when roll is not taken.

Likewise, I do think that it’s important for students to not come into class remembering that their instructors hopefully have had ample training and want to see them do well. However, instructors are also professionals who are at work and expect mature behavior. Save the eye rolling, sighing, and raising your voice for your friends and family. Seriously–your instructors are your future job references, mentors, and possible letter writers. People often say that the university isn’t the real world. It is a slice or microcosm of it. It doesn’t get more real than this. So, the next time your instructor asks you to please stop talking during her lecture or when other students are giving a presentation. Pause for a moment and think about your behavior.

Civility in the Classroom: Emotional Labor Redux

This Spring I wrote a blog post for the University of Venus about Emotional Labor in Academe and this post is a follow-up and will hopefully continue the conversation, as we approach a new school year. Emotional Labor takes many forms for instructors. Some of us teach topics that are provocative or outright controversial and this can energize the classroom environment, but it also can offer the instructor difficult moments. Likewise, some faculty teach topics that are not necessarily controversial, yet the classroom environment can be influenced by strong student personalities. How do you manage these situations. If you’re teaching at an institution new to you, see if there is a Code of Conduct for the campus. You might find that there is nothing, mish mash of policies or a Student Code of Conduct. Check with the department that you work for and find out if faculty include the code or other wording regarding collegiality in the classroom in the syllabus. Having the code or some verbiage related to the classroom behavior is useful as the class contract.

I’m not suggesting that you plan for the worst to take place. No, instead I’m suggesting that you prepare yourself accordingly. You hope for the best, and prepare for those interesting situations that occasionally present themselves in a classroom. Encourage good behavior by ensuring that the classroom provides a supportive environment. Here, I also assume that you will treat your students with respect and foster a civil environment. When I’ve had one of those moments when a student has said something troubling, I will often repeat what the student has said (within reason), and just this act often gets most students to hear what was said and want to clarify. Then, I give the student the opportunity to clarify the earlier statement. Usually a wave of hands go up just as the student made the comment, and I have to remind the class that we’ll discuss the matter at hand in a respectful way.

The above is a composite of different situations. Now, I am not referring to those moments when a student has used Hate Speech in the classroom. That is different and in my experience requires a different sort of reaction. I have usually stopped the student and asked that we speak outside. Then, outside we will talk about what just took place. In some situations the student will apologize and apologize to the classroom. And, in some instances the student refuses to admit that there was a problem. In the latter situation, I have asked the student to leave the classroom. Then, the protocol is to have a meeting. The meeting could be with just the student or the department head, me, and the student. You should verify what the policy is in your department or campus, and you should document everything immediately. You should also find out what the university policy is regarding these outlier situations. Do you have to report the student to Public Safety or to another student office? Confer with the department, the faculty association or your union representative.

Once the student is out of the classroom, I normally make one statement to the class about the need to have a collegial or civil, inclusive environment and then I move on. However, in my experience you need to be prepared for students to weigh in about the occurrence. Some will feel violated by their peer’s statement and it’s important that you listen and explain what the protocol is. Essentially, you’re explaining that you’re taking care of it–that there is a process. I have found that most students really want to make sure that their learning environment is supportive and this means different things to different students. And, some students will feel violated by the Hate Speech or offending comments and might want to chat with you individually.

This Summer I cleaned and reorganized the home office and I found one of two letters of apology. The short story is that one of my male students left his computer email open and his roommate and another decided to send lewd and threatening emails via my student’s Hotmail account. They also changed his password and were able to repeatedly send emails over the course of two days unbeknownst to my student. I reported the emails to the Chair and to the Campus Police. My student was banned from the classroom until this was sorted out. He bumped into me on campus and explained the situation. He was quite embarrassed and contrite and I realized that this was all some cruel stunt. The other students (roommate and friend) were contacted by the Campus Police and Student Affairs and had to write letters of apology. The letter below is the better of the two. I’m sure that this student never pulled a stunt like this again. Overall, I was thankful for the Chair, Campus Police, and university support.

Hopefully my post will help you maneuver the tricky situations that faculty face on campus. You want your classroom to be a place of learning and not have some side dramas drop like little bombs. If you have these situations in the classroom with student behavior, deal with it immediately and by all means document, document, and document. Make sure that you have followed the university norms and confer with a trusted colleague about the protocol. Also, verify what the Code of Conduct states. And, remember that it is not always about you. Chances are it really is about the student who made the comment(s). Good Luck!