The Baruch College Faculty Handbook

Classroom "Management"

Last updated on 6/18/10

On December 6, 2002, 16 members of the Baruch faculty, staff, and administration met to discuss issues of classroom management; specifically, student behavior that disrupts effective teaching. Discussion was spirited, but a broad consensus emerged around several issues, including the need for the items listed here to be discussed and implemented at the departmental level, with support from the college's administration through orientation and other efforts.

The list below reflects the consensus and is advanced here for consideration by individual members of the faculty and by departments. These items should not be construed as requirements; they are suggestions from which faculty and departments are invited to pick and choose as seems appropriate to their discipline. Many of these suggestions may seem obvious; further suggestions are welcome. For additional resources, please visit the Teaching Blog - Classroom Management.

  1. Consensus arose around the importance of communication: absent clear guides to classroom behavior, some students have no idea what behaviors are inappropriate. In light of contemporary norms -- talking in cinemas, cell phones at concerts, feet on subway seats, litter thrown on the ground -- less than respectful behavior might not be surprising, even in a college. Faculty should make clear to students (preferably both orally and in writing) that the classroom environment is a special one, with special normative behaviors. Syllabi distributed and discussed at the first class session are an important tool for communicating these precepts.

  2. Most students appreciate having limits clearly articulated and enforced. Those limits can include: phones and beepers turned off; no leaving class for calls; a request that students visit bathrooms before or after class, not during; no talking while the instructor is talking; no sleeping; questions to be directed to the instructor; no reading of materials unrelated to the class; no use of laptop computers other than for taking notes, etc.

  3. Student responsibilities regarding less banal aspects of behavior (including the need to prepare for class) similarly should be spelled out, preferably through a written syllabus, as well as orally.

    For a thought-provoking view of student responsibilities that encourages faculty to articulate these in the context of their own responsibilities, see Bill Taylor's "Letter to My Students" (which also may be accessed from the Academic Integrity page of the Faculty Handbook website). Again, anyone who wishes to incorporate this approach is invited to pick and choose.

  4. Faculty who do allow students to talk or to leave the room during a lecture help to create/reinforce bad habits that students then bring to other classrooms. The absence of stated limits encourages this behavior, as does faculty disregard of cheating during exams, or plagiarism on written assignments. Multiple-choice exams may be unavoidable in classes with many students, but administering the same MC exam to students sitting next to each other invites cheating: when possible, students should be seated in alternate seats and several versions of exams should be administered. (Different versions can be on different colored paper; the differences can be limited to the order of the questions. Here, as elsewhere, departments should develop their own best practices.) Faculty may insist that students use restrooms before the exam starts and should not themselves leave the room during exams.

  5. Some disruptive behaviors by students yield to tricks of the trade. They can be asked to change seats. In larger classes, students can be assigned seats alphabetically (or in other ways that discourage friends from sitting together); the seat assignments can be recorded and can serve as aids to taking attendance and to calling students by name. Students can be asked to supply photocopies of their ID photos, helping faculty learn names. Taking attendance is important not merely because of state regulations that students attend a certain number of hours, but because it alerts the college to potential problems of individual students and helps lessen the sense of anonymity. Warning students who have missed classes that they risk being dropped for over-cutting is a good idea; despite information on a syllabus and elsewhere, they may be unaware of attendance requirements.

  6. If a student's behavior is disruptive, the faculty member should ask him/her to stop. As suggested above, the key is communication: disruptions show disrespect for the instructor, fellow students, and the educational environment. If the disruptions persist, asking a student to change seats is reasonable, as is asking him/her to leave the classroom. If necessary, Security can be called to insure that a student leaves as requested (x3000 -- there are phones in all classrooms of the VC). The names of students who are disruptive can be sent to the Associate Dean of Students: Ron Aaron (NVC 2-256; 646-312-4577).

  7. Students who arrive late may be unintentionally disruptive. A separate seating area near the door can minimize this disruption. Late arrivals are always disruptive to some degree: faculty may discourage these by counting a certain number as the equivalent of an absence. Faculty who are not ready to begin lessons on time set a bad example.

  8. General issues of respect for the institution include respecting the classroom environment and the staff who clean the rooms. Faculty may bar eating and drinking from the classroom, but if they allow food consumption they should ask students to dispose of refuse correctly.

  9. Departments are urged to follow procedures regarding peer observations (all untenured faculty, including adjuncts, need to be observed during each of their first ten semesters teaching; tenured faculty may be observed once each semester) and to standardize their approach to observation and post-observation reports. (The relevant portion of our collective bargaining agreement is available here.) In addition, faculty should be encouraged to sit in on colleagues' lectures. A helpful practice would be for one or more members of a department to agree to be observed in this way. Standard departmental approaches to creating and maintaining a file of current syllabi also are encouraged.