Disruptive Student Behavior in the Classroom

It is important that both you and your students are familiar with the UH Hilo Student Conduct Code. Impermissible behavior includes behavior that interferes with or disrupts the processes of teaching, learning, research and administration.

Preventing Disruptive Behavior

To prevent disruptive behavior in the classroom, establish behavioral expectations at the beginning of the semester.  State expectations regarding attendance, lateness, class participation, cheating and appropriate conduct in the course syllabus and discuss them at the outset of the term.  Such explicit statements provide an opportunity for the instructor to underscore the importance of civility in the classroom—a reminder to students that the University expects respectful classroom behavior and has the prerogative to intervene and discipline when students behave disrespectfully and that students’ rights and privileges to learn in the classroom, free from disruption and harassment, will be protected.

Handling Disruptive Behavior

If you encounter a student who is disruptive, follow these procedures:

1. Talk with the student in a calm, respectful and non-threatening manner and tell him/her to refrain from such behavior, because it impedes your ability to teach and their classmates’ ability to learn.  Remind the student of any agreed-upon behavioral expectations that you may have discussed in the class and/or that are stated in the course syllabus.

2. If that fails to stop the misbehavior, privately invite the student to meet with you before or after class or during office hours.  Or, if you believe it is appropriate, calmly ask the student to leave the classroom and then contact him/her afterwards to schedule a meeting.  (If you have reason to believe the disruptive student might threaten you in any way, ask a colleague or administrator to attend this meeting.) 

During the meeting, explain why you believe the student’s conduct is disrupting the learning environment in your classroom.  Politely ask the student to stop this behavior.  Then ask the student to explain his/her behavior.  Ask if he/she accepts responsibility for the problematic conduct.  Listen carefully, for the student might cite any number of reasons, including serious health concerns, personal problems, or provocative behavior on the part of other students.  While health conditions do not condone the behavior, you might be able to direct the students to a campus resource, such as the Counseling Center (932-7465), for assistance.  Advise the student that if the disruptive conduct continues, you will refer him/her to the Dean of Student for disciplinary action, which may result in sanctions such as probation or suspension.

3. If disruptive behavior persists or escalates even after meeting with the student, contact the Dean of Students (932-7472).  You will be asked to provide a written report that describes the student’s misconduct.  This report initiates the disciplinary process (described in detail in the Student Conduct Code).  In short, an investigation will be conducted following due process principles and students will be held responsible for behavior that violates the Student Conduct Code.  Sanctions vary depending on the circumstances.

4. If a student’s behavior is extremely disruptive, threatening or dangerous, call Campus Security (974-7911) immediately.  Examples of such behavior include:

  • A student physically or verbally assaults you or any of your students
  • A student appears to be on the verge of physically or verbally assaulting you or any of your students
  • A student damages classroom furniture or property
  • A student is carrying a weapon

Campus Security will remove the student from the classroom.  If necessary, Campus Security will contact the police.  Consider adjourning the class session or taking a short break if a student must be removed from the classroom.  Contact the Dean of Students (932-7472) to report the incident.  This will initiate the judicial process and sanctions will be imposed if the student is found responsible for violating the Student Conduct Code. 

5. In emergency situations, Dean of Students is authorized to immediately and temporarily suspend a student.  Such situations include when a student poses a danger of inflicting bodily harm on himself/herself or others, of inflicting serious emotional distress on others, or creating a substantial disruption of normal campus activities, including classroom instruction. A judicial hearing will follow an emergency interim suspension and a final resolution to the matter will be made, which may include suspension for a longer period and/or other sanctions.

6. If you report an incident of disruptive behavior, you may request that the student be permanently removed from your class.  Such requests will be considered on a case by case basis and may be an appropriate sanction resulting from the disciplinary process.

7. Document incidents of misbehavior as they arise, even though they may appear to be minor at the time.  A pattern of disruptive behavior can be used to substantiate charges made against the student.

8. For advice in preventing and responding to disruptive behavior, talk to the Dean of Students, the Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs, your college dean, department or division chairperson, or other experienced colleagues.