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Maintaining Respect in the Classroom

Over the last two weeks, I’ve been dealing with increasingly disruptive students in my classroom.


Last fall, I kept the disruptions to a minimum, but this semester, they have occurred more frequently. Students texting (even though I have banned electronic devices in my class), talking loudly among each other and leaving the class during my lecture are now happening on a consistent basis.


I can’t figure it out. Some of it has to do with the fact that midterms are over and we have just over a month of school left. I’m guessing that more students are getting impatient about the end of the year and are looking forward to leaving campus.


But one of my students clued me in to another factor: Students have gotten more used to me. While last semester was a feeling out process between my students and me, this semester has been one of more mutual comfort. To many of my students, I’m no longer some “Other.”


More importantly, while I spent last semester occupying a third space between White and Black faculty, I’m sensing that more of my students relate to me as if I were one of them — not so much in terms of racial identification, but a generational one. My knowledge of what many of my students like and dislike can be a huge advantage in terms of relating theories to real-world application but it can also lead some of them to start taking me less seriously.


When I was a sports reporter, I used to talk to coaches about how to keep players motivated. There is no sure-fire way, they said, except to keep succeeding. I think I have had some success, but it’s clear that my classroom approach is now wearing thin on some of my students.


Almost every professor I know has “bad apples,” but it’s starting to be contagious among the good students in my classes as well. One of my good students, for example, has been getting up and leaving class for extended periods, only to return with just a few minutes remaining.


I’ve decided that tough times call for tough measures, especially if I’m in danger of “losing” my classes. For example, I have now implemented a measure where if students are caught talking, they will have to stand up and teach the class. I also withhold class assignments from those who are disruptive, which essentially means they get zeroes.


I’m not sure if this will work, but as my students have reached a comfort level with me, I can’t let comfort turn into complacency on both of our ends. Otherwise, summer vacation will come a lot sooner for my students.


Dr. Murali Balaji is an assistant professor in the Department of English and Mass Communications at Lincoln University.

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