In most of the classes I teach the students are there because they want to be, or because they must have a certification (or for both reasons), and as a result, once the class knows they are going to be held to a standard of being on time, paying attention, etc. they all comply.
I had the experience of a couple of students who did not seem to understand that their talking to each other in class distracted others. They continued despite repeated reminders that had worked with previous overly talkative students.
I wondered how many of my students really did consider talking, ringing cell phones, etc. to be distracting and/or disruptive behavior, so I did a written survey of one class’s attitudes and found that they were distracted and annoyed.
About a year later the campus newspaper La Voz ran an editorial:
“Students: stop ruining it for the rest of class
Believe it or not, some of us are here to learn.
Apparently, the concept of the classroom being a learning environment is lost for many students at De Anza College. Too often there are a few that ruin it for all and make class a waste of time.”
(The rest of the editorial is quoted at the end of this page.)
This webpage is now being used as a part of an ongoing survey in my classes of students’ attitudes about disruptive behavior.
A basic definition of disruptive behavior is: a disruptive person is one, who through his/her behavior, speech or actions, interferes with academic activity. This can be as obvious as physical or verbal abuse; willful damage to person or college property; disorderly conduct; lewd, indecent or obscene behavior or use of illicit drugs or misuse of prescription drugs & alcohol.
But disruptive behavior also includes anything that distracts or intimidates students or disrupts teaching.
(A policy statement to inform students of their rights, policy and responsibilities at Foothill and De Anza College is at: http://www.deanza.edu/studenthandbook/academic-integrity.html )
I searched De Anza websites and online in general for the phrase disruptive behavior, and wrote up the ultimate list of potentially distracting or disruptive behaviors.
I asked a class which behaviors they had ever seen happen in a college class (any college, not just De Anza).
Every behavior I listed had been experienced by at least two students.
Here are the tabulations of what they had experienced in a college class:
ringing cell phones,pagers and other electronic devices,
engaging in private conversations, being late to class (Each student mentioned all three of these.)
using cell phones, pagers and other electronic devices 18
packing up early 17
inappropriate language (profanity or vulgarity) or gestures 16
requesting excessive breaks 6
refusal to comply with instructor’s directions 12
wearing/using headphone or earbuds-type music/tape playing devices 13
inconsiderate personal hygiene habits 4 (such as) noticeably offensive body odor 8 the use of chewing tobacco 2
disruptive noisemaking 8 (such as) uncontrolled laughter 8 pen or pencil tapping 11 loud gum popping 3 loud or attention-distracting drinking 7 paper/book rustling 8
inappropriate body language 4 (such as) propping feet up on a desk 9 refusing to remain seated 3
glaring or making faces 6
inordinate demands for time and attention 3 (such as) monopolizing discussions 9
persistent questioning 12
wasting class time by repeatedly asking unnecessary questions, such as those that have been answered in class or class materials 10
incoherent comments 8 off-topic discussions 6
interrupting the flow of class with interjections or questions 8
overt inattentiveness and engaging in activities inappropriate to learning (such as) staring out the window 7 completing homework during class time 12
reading non-class related materials (newspapers, magazines, etc.) 10
reading class materials at inappropriate times, such as when attention should be focused on videos, lecture, discussion or skills practice 7 applying makeup 7
Other (describe) tapping foot
Every behavior I listed was considered distracting by at least two students.
I also asked them to rate the top five they personally would find the most distracting. (Put a 1 next to the worst, 2 next to the second worst, etc.)
The following are tabulations of the 1 though 5 worst:
ringing cell phones, pagers and other electronic devices (eight #1s, six #2s, two #4s)
using cell phones, pagers and other electronic devices (one #1, five #2s, four #3s, one #4)
engaging in private conversations (seven #1s, two #2s, nine #3s)
inappropriate language (profanity or vulgarity) or gestures (four #1s, one #3, three #4s)
requesting excessive breaks (was not in any student’s top five)
packing up early (two #2s, two #4s, one #5)
refusal to comply with instructor’s directions (One #1, two #2s, one #5)
wearing/using headphone or earbuds-type music/tape playing devices (One each of #3 and #5)
being late to class (two #1s, one #4, five #5s)
inconsiderate personal hygiene habits (such as) noticeably offensive body odor (two #1s, one each of number 3,4 and 5.) the use of chewing tobacco (One #2)
disruptive noise making (one each of #2,3,4 and 5) (such as) uncontrolled laughter (one each of #2 and #4) pen or pencil tapping (one each of #2 and 5) loud gum popping
loud or attention-distracting drinking paper/book rustling
inappropriate body language (such as) propping feet up on a desk (one #4) refusing to remain seated
glaring or making faces
inordinate demands for time and attention (such as) monopolizing discussions persistent questioning (one each #3 and #4, two #5s)
wasting class time by repeatedly asking unnecessary questions, such as those that have been answered in class or class materials (one #2, two #4s, one #5) incoherent comments (one #2) off-topic discussions (one #2)
interrupting the flow of class with interjections or questions (One each of #3 and #4)
(None of the following were in any student’s top five.)
overt inattentiveness and engaging in activities inappropriate to learning (such as) staring out the window completing homework during class time sleeping (or appearing to sleep, as in eyes closed)
reading non-class related materials (newspapers, magazines, etc.)
reading class materials at inappropriate times, such as when attention should be focused on videos, lecture, discussion or skills practice applying makeup
The overwhelming majority in the poll had not read the rules and regulations in the De Anza Biological, Health and Environmental Sciences Division Student Handbook, nor the rules and regulations in the De Anza College Catalog, nor the rules and regulations from the De Anza College Catalog in the schedule of classes.
The overwhelming majority said that they had never had an instructor recommend in a greensheet or in discussion of class rules that they read any of the above.
In the process of rewriting a model syllabus for the De Anza College Academic Senate I worked with colleagues, the Faculty Association, and Disability Support Services. In the process I read more than a hundred syllabi. See syllabus examples.
I asked: Have you had any specific experiences with class disruptions or problems in a class discussion that you can describe for me?
One quarter in the class I was taking there was an excessive amount of whispering and talking. The teacher did not teach well, so people, I believe, distracted themselves in that manner. I also saw people doing their homework for another class in this particular class. Those of us near the front constantly had to shush those talking. It was extremely disrupting. While I felt the teacher was horrible and it was a waste of my time and money I still tried to give her respect as a teacher, even though she was disrespectful to me when asking questions. This class was by far the worst but I have seen similar distractions in almost all classes.
In a class I took last quarter this woman’s cell phone rang and she answered it in class. The teacher stopped lecture and the whole class turned around. Very rude! And the girl continued talking loud!
Sometimes students have to have private discussions and the teacher has to interrupt the class to inform them that they are disturbing the class. Some students are very unhappy about it. It is hard on the instructor!
In my xxx 40B class I sat in the middle of a group of friends who consistently talked and laughed. I realized they all were friends after sitting there for a couple of weeks. I eventually had to change my seat and never sit close to these people again. I got extremely distracted and had a hard time listening to the instructor.
Yes, when students ask questions that do not relate to the class itself or they repeat questions that have already been answered.
Just people talking near me which makes it hard for me to hear what the prof is saying.
Yes, two employees arrived nearly 25 minutes late to an academic night class – talking and stumbling around to find and open up folding chairs. They missed 99% of the teachers orientation. 🙁
The worst problem I’ve encountered is a student completely failing to grasp a principle after repeated explanations. The instructor politely asked them to stay after class or come to office hours.
In the forum auditorium people were yelling outside into the classroom while we were having class. When the teacher went to see what was going on, the people fled the scene. When the teacher went back to teach the class, the perpetrators returned and began yelling again.
Anything involving extraneous conversation or speech is highly distracting. Usually disruptive behavior is more distracting to the instructor than the students, but of course the students also reap the results.
A student did not understand a math problem, so she questioned the teacher about it. After a couple of tiring tries, the teacher asked the student to meet at her office. The student became upset and wouldn’t comply with the teacher and was asked to leave the class.
In the survey I stated: In my classes sometimes I will take answers off the cuff, but often the best way to answer is to raise your hand and be recognized. Occasionally I will ask a question and request that no one answer it out loud for a moment until all have had a chance to think about it. And I asked:
Are you okay with always having to raise your hand? Yes 17, No 4, Rarely 1
Are you okay with people being allowed to just say answers out loud? Yes 13, No 3, Sometimes 4
Do you have any preference … No preference = 8, raise hand = 4, (shout = 2)
When I first posted this page I sent an email to various graduates of the De Anza lifeguard training class who still come back to volunteer with classes. I got this response:
How’s things? I hope all is well. I enjoyed your survey and have experienced all of the behavior mentioned, even the chewing tobacco in class and I would like to share my latest experience with disruptive class behavior. I was taking my final in Partnerships and Corporations with Renae yesterday and this young lady finished her exam, turned it in, walked out of the class and stopped right outside the door to call her friend to voice her displeasure about the test and her project grade. The door was open and she made no attempt to be quiet. The room was still full of students trying to finish the exam and it was a very glaring distraction for the entire class. Everybody kind of stopped what they were doing and looked at each other like “Is this little B for real?”. At least, that is what Renae and I were thinking. I became so frustrated by this person I got up, walked to the door, gave her a look and closed the door. I might have said something too, but self control got the better of me. Are people these days so self absorbed that they are unaware of boundaries/common courtesy? On my way back to my seat I received many looks of appreciation, approval, high fives, hugs, kisses, chocolate, flowers, money, standing ovation.
I just try to think of it this way and you can pass this on to your students if you like. These people are your competition for jobs. If I see these people in a job interview applicant pool for a position I’m applying for, then I am going to get a big smile on my face because I’m about to get hired.
The campus newspaper published this editorial on 2/26/07:
“Students: stop ruining it for the rest of class
Believe it or not, some of us are here to learn.
Apparently, the concept of the classroom being a learning environment is lost for many students at De Anza College. Too often there are a few that ruin it for all and make class a waste of time.
Students appear to be under the mistaken impression that if they are gracious enough to show up, then they are free to do anything they please. But God forbid that they should actually learn anything.
Apparently, the classroom is the only place where they can eat, text message back and forth on their cell phones, listen to their iPods or do anything else other than sit quietly and take notes.
Indeed, many are so inexplicably pressed for time that they can’t wait for the next break in an hour to take care of their business.
There are also those who equate classtime with a social hour, chatting away in the back of the room with their friends about things that must be important enough for everyone else to hear. And no one wants to complain about them to the instructor. It’s taboo, since the only thing worse than a gossip is a snitch, and we’re all adults here, supposedly.
Unfortunately, it seems like we’re back to preschool, since there are students who use class time for naptime. Nothing is more comical or annoying than seeing someone’s head bob back and forth from falling in and out of sleep.
Students don’t realize that they are hurting themselves when they don’t take class seriously. Instead, they start eating Cheetos from their loud, crackly bags, and then the whole class suffers. Once the concentration is broken, there’s no turning back.
Add up all the distractions, and many class sessions end up ruined for everyone. Tuition becomes a waste of money, and the rich experience of higher education is lost.
The solution is simple: take care of your business before or after class and come prepared to learn. The less attention you bring to yourself, the better.
After all, the focus is supposed to be at the front of the room with the instructor, where it belongs. By simply being more considerate of your fellow classmates, you can make De Anza a better place to learn and thrive.
So stop with the distractions and take some notes already.”
Here is part of the section from my syllabi on disruptive behavior:
If disruptive behavior occurs in a class, “the instructor may remove the student from his or her class for that day and the next class meeting if the student interfered with the instructional process,” and the behavior will be reported to the Office of Student Development for possible disciplinary action/reprimand/suspension.
(A previous class put together this world’s-longest-list of list of disruptive behaviors. All of the disruptive behaviors listed below had been experienced by at least one student, if not multiple students, in another De Anza class.)
It would be impossible to list all the ways a student could be disruptive, but the basic definition is: a disruptive person is one, who through his/her behavior, speech or actions, interferes with academic activity. This can be as obvious as physical or verbal abuse; willful damage to person or college property; disorderly conduct; lewd, indecent or obscene behavior or use of illicit drugs or misuse of prescription drugs & alcohol.
Disruptive behavior also includes anything that distracts or intimidates students or disrupts teaching, including, but not limited to: using cell phones, pagers, and other electronic devices other than those approved by me or allowing them to ring; using a laptop or other electronic device during class to do homework, email friends, etc.; engaging in private conversations; inappropriate language (profanity or vulgarity) or gestures; requesting excessive (in the opinion of the instructor) breaks; taking breaks of your own choosing; inconsiderate personal hygiene habits including, but not limited to: noticeably offensive body odor, cologne or the use of chewing tobacco; packing up early; disruptive noise making, including but not limited to uncontrolled laughter, pen, pencil or foot tapping, loud gum popping, loud or attention distracting drinking and paper/book rustling; inappropriate body language, including, but not limited to propping feet up on a desk, refusing to remain seated, glaring or making faces; inappropriate physical contact; refusal to comply with instructor’s directions; open and persistent defiance of the authority of the instructor or teaching assistants. Day packs and other gear should be left on the floor, not the desk top, so you won’t be tempted to hide your cell phone from view of the instructor while you text message a friend.
If you want to wear clothing (a t-shirt, for example), or have visible tattoos with photos, drawings or words that would, in the opinion of your instructor, be distracting to her, you may not sit in the front rows of the class. If, when you are seated in the back rows of the classroom, you find that you can not hear what the instructor is saying or hear videos well enough, you should drop the class, get a hearing test and come back to take the class when you have the same level of hearing ability as the rest of the class or have received assistance from Disabilities Support Services.
Disruptive behavior also includes inordinate demands for time and attention, including, but not limited to, monopolizing discussions; persistent questioning; wasting class time by repeatedly asking unnecessary questions, such as those that have been answered in class or class materials; giving excuses for not doing homework; attempting to debate with the instructor over teaching style, what you think should or should not be taught, the need for required homework, attendance, attention, rules in the syllabus; interrupting the flow of class with interjections or questions; incoherent comments and off-topic discussions; using vocabulary not in the textbook (example fainting is to be referred to as fainting, not as syncope); interrupting the flow of class by not staying organized during drills, especially not following along with simultaneous practices or failing to follow instructions/correct mistakes during drills.
Some subjects in class could be considered gross, but comments about the grossness, including saying “eeeeew” are also disruptive.
Trying to teach material or skills that are not in the textbook is not allowed. If, for example, a student tries to talk about an alternative form of first aid, or wants to go on at length about something the instructor says has been covered sufficiently, once the instructor says that is enough or we are not discussing that subject, if a student then continues to talk about the subject, they can be dismissed from class.
One of the most important safety instructions is, as you will be told to write in your text, “When practicing on a student in class you should only simulate back blows and abdominal thrusts (do not apply pressure) so you do not hurt anyone.”
Disruptive behavior also includes overt inattentiveness and engaging in activities inappropriate to learning, including, but not limited to: sleeping (or appearing to sleep, as in eyes closed); reading non-class related materials (newspapers, magazines, etc.); reading class materials at inappropriate times, such as when attention should be focused on videos, lecture, discussion or skills practice; completing homework during class time; applying makeup; grooming hair; knitting; staring out the window.
Wearing/using headphone or earbuds-type music/tape playing devices, even if they are not attached to a device, makes it look to everyone as if you are not paying attention in class. No sunglasses are allowed.
It is self-defeating, and disrupts the class as well, to say out loud (or even to think to yourself) “I can’t do this.” Give yourself the time to try each step repeatedly until you succeed! Keep thinking “I WILL be able to do this” until it happens. Your personal positive attitude really can affect the outcome. Balking or refusing to participate in class practice or skills testing is also disruptive to the class as a whole and can lead to your being dropped.
Open class discussions are encouraged as long as the discussion is appropriate, done in a respectful, orderly fashion and fits in the time required to cover the class material. Disagreements and differences of opinion in class discussions are not disruptive behavior unless they include personal insults, bullying or physical confrontation, intimidation, excessive aggressiveness or anger, being overly argumentative, interrupting others, obscenities, yelling and the like. In my classes sometimes I will take answers off the cuff, but often the best way to answer is to raise your hand and be recognized. Occasionally I will ask a question and request that no one answer it out loud for a moment until all have had a chance to think about it.