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Difficult students: What's a faculty member to do?

April 29, 2003

Students are more apathetic, infected with an unwarranted sense of entitlement, lacking in basic civility and downright rude. Judging by the response to a column in last month's Chronicle of Higher Education, that's the belief of many faculty members nationwide.

Jill Carroll, an adjunct lecturer in Texas, wrote a column last month addressing the topic of inattentive, disruptive and verbally abusive students in the Chronicle of Higher Education.
April 29, 2003

Students are more apathetic, infected with an unwarranted sense of entitlement, lacking in basic civility and downright rude. Judging by the response to a column in last month's Chronicle of Higher Education, that's the belief of many faculty members nationwide.

Jill Carroll, an adjunct lecturer in Texas, wrote a column last month addressing the topic of inattentive, disruptive and verbally abusive students in the Chronicle of Higher Education.

In response, faculty at universities across the country wrote of being verbally assaulted, blocked from leaving classrooms, reported to higher-ups for giving low grades or assigning demanding projects and pelted with wads of paper in the classroom.

"We shouldn't have to have these conversations in a college environment," wrote Carroll, author of "How to Survive as an Adjunct Lecturer: An Entrepreneurial Strategy Manual."

"Students should have learned basic civility long before they show up in our classrooms. But apparently, some of them haven't."

Carroll offered some advice for adjuncts and faculty struggling with difficult students.

Document everything. "Record every incident and every verbal exchange," Carroll says. "Keep hard copies of all e-mail messages or other correspondence…as well as all written assignments, especially if those assignments are part of the 'issue.'"

Make sure you have witnesses. If at all possible, try to address the problem in front of the entire class or within earshot of other students or faculty members. "You need other people who can corroborate not only the student's bad behavior but your attempts to deal with it."

Communicate with your supervisor. And ask for advice, Carroll says. "If the student ever makes a formal complaint about you, it will help that you've been in contact with the administration from the outset."

For faculty who "snap" and lash out at students for their laziness, poor attitude or other less-than-sterling characteristics, Carroll says, "Just go back into the classroom, resume you normal professional stance and proceed."

If you feel your rapport with students truly has been harmed, Carroll says you could briefly apologize for your language or attitude, but do it without minimizing what they said or did that led to your momentary lapse.

Don't grovel, she says. "Too much groveling will leave you looking weaker than ever."

The entire article can be found in the Monday, April 29 edition of the Chronicle of Higher Education.