Classroom disruptions must be dealt with immediately. The easiest way to avoid conflict is to enumerate certain behavior guidelines in your syllabus, indicating what types of behavior you do not want to see in the class. When students engage in one of these behaviors, calmly but firmly remind them of your policy and ask that they stop.
Explain to your students on the first day that attentiveness and participation are required. Make it clear that students are not only expected to attend class but to be there mentally. Listening to music, texting, chatting with classmates, shouting out comments, doing homework for other classes, chewing gum loudly—all these activities disturb others in the class and are not allowed. In addition, they signal a disregard for classmates.
A common problem is the student who feels the need to monopolize class discussions or to blurt out answers before anyone else has a chance to respond. These students inhibit the quieter students, dampen the enthusiasm of the less shy, and cause resentment and anger against themselves and against the instructor who allows them to dominate the class.
One such student is the very bright student. At the beginning of the semester at least, the student is often implicitly encouraged in this behavior both by the other students and the teacher. The other students in the class are relieved that they do not have to respond because they know that this vocal student will; the instructor—especially the new and nervous instructor—will be happy that someone is responding. Soon, however, problems may develop. Students will never become wholly engaged in the materials if they feel that the class is a dialogue between the teacher and one or two students. They will soon resent the fact that the course focuses upon a single student, and this resentment can easily turn into hostility by the end of the semester. The end result is a class which is disengaged, a course which lacks the depth that it could have derived from a full range of student responses.
An instructor must work to engage all students. Give the students a minute or two to formulate an answer after asking a question—do not be afraid of silence. Look around the entire class, making eye contact with as many students as possible. Call on students who have not raised their hands. If they are unable to answer the first time, almost certainly they will be better prepared the second time. If a student gives an incorrect or vague answer, work with this student awhile. The bright student should certainly not be ignored, but others must also be given the opportunity and the encouragement to participate.
If the student continues to monopolize the class, take the student aside after class and discuss the situation as you see it. Explain that although you recognize the value of the student's contributions and the depth of the student's knowledge, you also see the value of involving the whole class in the learning process. Most bright students readily acknowledge their own overeagerness and are willing to give the other students in class an opportunity to respond before they do, especially if their teachers make it clear that they appreciate the student's ability and intelligence.
If a student interrupts others or shouts out the answer without waiting to be called on, make it clear immediately that this behavior is unacceptable. Even in a class discussion, where spontaneity is desirable, students should recognize the rights of others and treat them with courtesy. A discussion should never turn into a free-for-all, and you, the instructor, should act as moderator of the debates, exercising some control over the students and directing the discussion.
A related problem is the student who is forever volunteering answers that do not really respond to the questions you have asked or that tend to move the class away from the topic under discussion. (This is not to say that there is only one answer to any question.). Rather than discussing the text or the issue under consideration (about which they often know very little), the student will relate long stories based on personal experiences or introduce material from another class, neither of which have relevance to the topic at hand. Oftentimes, the result of the student's response is to get the class off track.
Anger, however, is not the best response. It is always preferable to try to avoid this situation in the first place, by formulating questions carefully so that students are forced to relate the answer to the text or the matter under discussion. If the student ignores your pointed question, as such students often do, ask the student to relate the answer to the question more specifically. If the student is unable to do this, you should ask him or her a direct question about class preparation: "Have you read the text?" or "Have you worked out all the steps of the solution?" If not, suggest that the student see you after class. At that time you should kindly, yet firmly, explain the inappropriateness of that student's responses and the necessity of paying attention to the assignments and class focus. When once informed point-blank that bluffing is not useful, the student will usually stop this behavior.
Another problem is the genuinely disruptive student. You will sometimes encounter students who sit together (usually in one of the back corners of the classroom) and talk and laugh throughout class. Directing a pointed comment at this group may remind them of the expected behavior. "Did you wish to add something to the discussion, Mr. X?" will let them know that their behavior has been observed and is unacceptable. You should also speak to them after class, individually whenever possible. If you wish, you can ask that they no longer sit together during your class. Most students will not persist in this kind of behavior once you have very clearly let them know that you will not allow it.
Other students may signal their lack of interest in the class by surfing the web, doing homework, or texting. Try to catch the eye of these students, letting them know in a non-verbal way that you do not approve of their behavior. Or, if the students are so engrossed in the activity that you cannot catch their eyes, ask a direct question of these inattentive students, and they will certainly not be able to answer. Often this is enough to discourage such behavior. If this doesn't work, however, ask them to stop at once and tell them to see you after class. Do not ignore these students for to do so only encourages others to participate in this kind of behavior.
Students who make offensive remarks in the classroom must be informed at once that their behavior is unacceptable. Make it very clear from the beginning of the semester that this can never be tolerated in a university classroom. Sexist, racist, homophobic, and xenophobic remarks should be confronted on the spot. If the student seems genuinely not to understand the problem, explain why the remark is unacceptable. But if the student clearly means to offend, you should respond sternly and quickly. This is one classroom situation where a show of anger may be justified. If, after being spoken to, the student persists in such behavior, you may have to appeal to the Dean's Office of that students particular school for further action.
In most situations, however, the basic rule is not to embarrass the student in class. Embarrassment does little to help change the student's behavior and may inhibit the other members of the class from contributing. Never let a student feel 'put down;' this intimidates and usually turns off future participation.