Classroom management issues

General administration issues   L&T considerations   Dealing with difficult situations
        Supporting tutors

General administration issues in classroom management

Faculties have minimum attendance requirements.

  • These requirements usually apply to workshops, tutorials and labs but not necessarily to lectures. Students who do not comply with these will risk the grade of absent fail. Check with your Head of Department to find out about your faculty policy on attendance.
  • The actual expectations can vary across faculties, so if you are service teaching or have students coming from another faculty in your class, always make it clear what your attendance requirements are. Provide this information on your eLearning site and in the unit of study (UoS) outline so students can’t say ‘no-one told me'.

Students arriving late to class can become an issue.

  • This is certainly the case if the same student makes it a regular practice. Let students know that it does matter if they are late, even in large lectures.
  • Many lecturers have developed their own techniques for dealing with tardiness. Some will simply ignore the latecomers to lectures (unless they are very numerous or disruptive). There may be good reasons why students arrive late, and sometimes it’s not worth the angst and further disruption to be reactive.
  • Other teachers will make it quite clear that no-one is allowed in after the first 10 minutes and they will ask any latecomers to leave (especially those who wander in 15 minutes late with a cup of coffee). The ‘10 minute late’ rule is more commonly applied to tutorials, workshops and labs than in lectures.
  • If the student is very late, they may be allowed to join the class, but are marked as absent. This can be a strong motivator to arrive on time, to ensure that attendance requirements are met.
  • It is important to remember, however, that students’ late arrival is sometimes unavoidable. This is especially true at the beginning of the semester: many first year students genuinely get lost or cannot find the classroom. Don’t forget, too, that it can take up to 15 minutes to walk from one side of campus to the other. Just ask your students to let you know if this is a problem for them.

Students who wish to change tutorials or subjects need to follow pre-established guidelines.

  • Let them know the rules on this in your first class, and post these on your eLearning site.
  • See Timetabling and enrolment for more information.

Learning & teaching considerations

First year students may need time to adapt to the new learning modes they will encounter at university, for example independent and self-directed study or clinical learning modules.

  • You can assist them through explaining protocols and responsibilities. Your UoS can also be designed to encourage the development of these skills. See our sections on Staff/Student responsibilities, Academic skills and UoS design – you will find the links in the feature pane on the right.

Being well organized yourself will help to establish a productive atmosphere in your classes.
This allows you to get off on the correct foot when it comes to structuring your students’ expectations of what you and the unit of study can give them.

  • Make sure that you are on time yourself(!)
  • Plan your lectures carefully, keeping in mind that varying activities over the duration of the class will stop attention wandering.
  • Clarify assessment requirements and student responsibilities (as well as what you are able to do to support students with these).
  • Give students prompt quality feedback.
  • Make sure that your sessional staff prepare before their tutorials/workshops, and are also aware of the above pointers.

Increase student participation and engagement through your teaching methods

  • There are many straightforward teaching methods for motivating your students’ interest in a topic. See our section on Active learning for more on this.
  • Try to ensure that you make clear why you want the students to learn something, and how it might be relevant to their broader interests. Some teachers start each lecture or workshop with a slide entitled ‘Why is this relevant?’ or ‘So What?’, just before or after presenting the learning outcomes for that session.
  • Engaging and motivating students in this way can be particularly challenging in ‘service teaching’ situations. It can also be difficult when you are teaching a UoS in a generalist degree program which may not be every students' first choice, but which some have selected as a springboard to specific vocational or professional degree. See our discussion on clarifying the relevance of your topic in our section on Service teaching.
Classroom managment

Dealing with difficult situations

Noisy or disruptive students
Students who comment loudly or talk amongst themselves usually disturb those around them who want to focus on the class, so it is best to mention your expectations about this, and your reasons for them, right at the beginning of the semester. If problems arise during the semester, it is a good idea to deal them quickly and directly.

In smaller classes you can talk, quietly and personally, to the individuals involved. Never put a student on the spot, or try to make them feel uncomfortable. Make sure your comments are respectful, and refer to the disruption as the problem, not the student him or herself. In small, professionally oriented programs, appropriate conduct in classes can also be made a component of a participation mark.

In large classes the situation is not so straightforward. The larger the lecture theatre, the easier it can be for students to feel completely alienated from the lecturer. They often end up treating their experience as something like watching television, or as if there’s a wall of one-way glass between you and them, and they think you can’t see them at all! This inevitably leads to students talking.

  • The best way to reverse this trend is to increase student participation in aspects of your lecture, eg asking or taking questions from time to time, inviting a show of hands about opinions/experiences, etc.
  • Other strategies can be employed to re-individuate specific members of your audience. Some experienced colleagues recommend a genuine and ‘up close’ appeal to the students who are talking – stop the lecture and just walk up to them ( if you are wearing a wireless microphone turn it off so that it is clear that this is a private matter) and speak directly and respectfully to them. This breaks the false wall students have created. In comparison, simply making general appeals for everyone to be quieter is rarely as successful, as the audience remains de-individuated.
  • Another strategy, which is less disruptive of the lecture (but only works if you are using a wireless microphone!), may be to break the invisible wall by simply walking up the aisle, close to the disruption as you continue the lecture. It is much harder for students to feel invisible when you are standing just near them.
  • A final suggestion to prevent disruptions is to empower other students to let you know when someone else’s talking is bothering them. Students may feel separated from you by the invisible wall, but they generally recognise that they are not entirely alone on their side!

Disrespectful behaviour
Disrespect for fellow students, general rudeness, and challenging the teacher’s knowledge or authority are a few issues you might encounter in your classes. Some of our first year students are still very young, and many are dealing with all sorts of changes and challenges in their life, so inappropriate behaviour can, at times, be part and parcel of teaching first year students. Keep in mind that this kind of behaviour probably has nothing at all to do with you personally; this can help you focus on dealing with it objectively and professionally.

The Merlot Pedagogy Portal provides a selection of online articles and resources that will help you learn how to manage some of these situations.

If you think a student’s disrespectful behaviour involves harassment or discrimination, please consult the Harassment and Discrimination website or contact one of the Harassment and Discrimination Support Officers.

Controversial topics and heated arguments
Discussing and debating controversial issues can be one of the most intellectually stimulating experiences that first year students encounter, and can provide a wonderful opportunity to develop skills and attributes relating to all five clusters of graduate attributes. However, for students who have not had much experience of this in high school, or who are strongly and emotionally committed to certain points of view, such discussion can be quite difficult.

‘Managing hot moments in the classroom’ is an article that discusses how to deal with situations where students disagree strongly on controversial or ‘hot’ topics.

Students with signs of severe emotional distress
Please consult the Counselling and Psychological Service’s Information for staff page for advice on how to respond if a student seems to be extremely distressed. There’s an excellent ‘Quick reference guide’ in the right side column of the page that you can download and keep handy.

If you are concerned that a student’s behaviour may constitute a risk to his or her own safety, or the safety of others, you can contact Security at any time, day or night.

Supporting tutors who may have difficulties with student behavior

Draw your tutors’ attention to the ideas listed above.
In addition, the Faculty of Engineering and IT Tutor Orientation Handbook has some hypothetical scenarios to help tutors and demonstrators prepare for difficult situations. You will find the topic listed in the contents.

Student misconduct

In cases of serious misconduct, such as when a student’s behaviour is severely disrupting other students’ studies over a period of time, you may need to contact Student Affairs regarding their role in student discipline