Monday, April 23, 2007

Oh, me! What to do? The trouble with disruption!

Let's face it. If there is a classroom, there will be disruption. Jennifer Meta Robinson writes about instances that may cause and offers suggestions on how to handle disruption in her article "A Question of Authority: Dealing with Disruptive Students." Obviously, graduate teaching instructors face many disadvantages when they walk into the classroom. She elaborates on them as follows:

"Graduate-student instructors in particular
may face problems with disruptive students
because they may be perceived as less qualified.
As one graduate-student teacher said, 'Our
position as graduate students marks us as not
quite in the academy yet. That’s not the case;
to some, however, like our students, that may
seem to be the case'” (119-120).

Students receive the perception that TA's aren't quite as powerful as other professors for many reasons such as a lack of offices, telephones, and instructional support. Also, there is the small age gap between teacher and student and an overall sense of inexperience and nervousness. All of these things can lead to student disruption because, in their mind, the classroom has been disrupted when a person becomes teacher that doesn't seem to have the authority a student would expect.

“While some students have high thresholds
for disruptive behavior of both students and
instructor, others will hold culpable instructors
who permit distracting activity to continue” (120).

Disruption doesn't necessarily mean a person threw a piece of paper or that someone spoke out of turn. In fact, disruption can be the fault of the teacher. Teachers are disruptive when they seem distant or uncaring, when they surprise students with tests or grades, if they come late to class or cancel class all together. There needs to be a sense of continuity in the classroom, and failing to create this kind of atmosphere may cause a rift in the classroom environment.

For Robinson, “gender became an issue in [her] mind” because both of her examples of disruption came from “men [who] were at least six feet tall” that “easily outweighed” her (122). Unfortunately, the gender power struggle does apply in the classroom as research points out that “more female than male instructors seem to be faced with disruption” (123). Females, then, need to show a greater sense of self-awareness and self-confidence in order to descrease disruption in the classroom.

How can one handle disruption?
  • Set course policies and expectations on the first day.
  • Begin with and maintain “immediacy,” meaning learn names, interests, and meeting with students early to create an appearance (and actually create) an interest and openness.
  • Encourage active learning
  • Seek feedback.
  • Avoid trauma during the semester – no surprises!
  • Maintain high self-esteem
Hopefully, with these little tips, a TA can maintain. But noone should be surprised -- in fact we should all sort of expect -- to have little moments of disruption. Afterall, if there is no power struggle in the classroom, students are probably not looking at themselves as capable of having authority within the learning environment.


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