Escalation 201: Moderate and high level concerns
Now that we've graduated Irritation 101, let's move into Escalation 201, where more moderate levels of disruptive behaviors all the way to escalated, high level concerns can be found. These sort of concerns not unusual and often emanate from students who may have begun by exhibiting "irritating" behaviors and have not responded to limit setting. Despite discussions you've had with these students, they have persisted in disrupting your class. Although you can consult with your Departmental and Divisional resources (i.e. Chair or Coordinator and Dean) at any point in the process of dealing with classroom management issues, when facing concerns of this nature, it's especially important to give your Chair or Coordinator and your Dean a "heads-up". I would additionally suggest you take a moment to consult, troubleshoot and strategize. Remember too that you are by no means alone. There are many campus resources who are available to partner with you to provide support. This is an opportune time to connect with the Student Conduct Officer,. The Conduct Officer is a campus expert in limit setting, due process, and identifying helpful resources. If you have concerns about escalating safety issues, the HEAT and Harper College Police are other resources worth consulting with. Then there are those instances in which we do not have the luxury of time. In some situations, you may need to address a behavior right away, even during class. Some examples include those in which one student is intimidating, bullying or harassing another student, or those in which immediate safety and/or health care emergencies unfold. In these cases, your immediate and always accessible (24/7) partner in addressing disruption is the Harper College Police Department or dialing 9-1-1. If you are unsure of how or when to contact the College Police, I would encourage you to think preventively. Call their office, connect with a team member, and ask questions. Then, you will be informed and prepared if an emergency takes place. You can also find information about the Police on the College website.
A few examples of moderate level behaviors include:
- Students who persist in disruption, despite your clear limit setting. This could be "serial" repeaters who continue to hold side conversations, sleep, text, or make phone calls during class.
- Students who are rude to instructors (for example, in a consult one colleague shared with me that a student would speak up in class and loudly say "Those that can, do. Those that can't, teach. Useless! Like you!" while pointing at him).
- Students who continually preempt you from covering your course materials, such as the chronic interruptor (again, this is despite your direct limit setting efforts with the student).
- A student who might be in violation of Title IX, such as one who repeatedly "hits on" another student in class who does not want this attention (i.e. flirting, asking for the other student's phone number or to be "friended" on Facebook, etc..).
- Students who voice opinions that are clearly disrespectful (i.e. "Anyone in favor of same sex marriage is a moron and should be locked up"; "This essay was biased and unfair and I'll make sure you're fired for making us read it").
The potential for dangerous behavior is the highest level of disruption along the continuum. This kind of disruption has an understandable tendency to be personally and professionally triggering for us (and often has this same impact upon the other students in class). In these instances, good prevention means having taken measures beforehand (whenever possible), consulting with others, setting limits, and, when viable, try to establish a working relationship with the student of concern. Other things that can be helpful include being as mentally prepared as possible, gaining familiarity with resources, and taking action quickly if disruptive behaviors escalate, and the possibility of having a potentially dangerous situation in the classroom unfolds. To these ends, let's begin by looking at an extreme end of the continuum, the student who is escalating and may become violent.
Some signs that violent behavior may be unfolding might include one or more of the following:
- Students articulating violent thoughts or plans to harm themselves, others, society, specific person(s), etc...
- Students exhibiting aggression. Acts of aggression can be written, verbally communicated, or physical (i.e. explicit writing about the "joys" of arson, yelling at another student to "shut the F up" in class, slamming a book on an instructor's desk, deliberately or inadvertently causing harm to themselves by cutting or smashing hands against desks. or slamming their heads against the wall, etc.)
- Students whose behavior appears impulsive or uncontrolled, such a student who begins yelling, pacing, or undressing during class.
- Students who articulate and may glorify solving problems through the use of weapons ("You don't like X's positions on global warming? A semi-automatic is the best solution. Take 'em out. That takes care of everything").
- Students who appear out of touch with reality (talking aloud to oneself or to another person who isn't present in the classroom, chanting, expressing delusional thoughts ("I am the homecoming queen of the universe - where's my dragon?", etc..).
- Students who violate the boundaries of others (randomly touching other students, walking in to your office without knocking when your door is closed, showing up at your home uninvited).
If you find yourself in a situation involving an escalating student, bear a few thoughts in mind. First, consider whether you perceive an immediate threat of danger. If you do, when on campus, call the Harper College Police as soon as possible. If you're off campus, call 9-1-1. If you don't perceive an imminent threat, think about whether you can you manage and/or resolve the immediate situation yourself, or whether you still want to access some support ASAP. These situations can be ambiguous, and it is good to give yourself some leeway and once again I suggest that whenever possible, you obtain consultation. It's also helpful to brainstorm and envision ways you might make a response. For instance, , if a disruption unfolded while you were teaching, would you take a spontaneous pause from class and give your students a break, or perhaps even dismiss them, and then call the police? If you were sitting in your office with an escalating student, would you excuse yourself, perhaps by stating you needed a take a minute to make a call or use the restroom and would be right back - and in the interim, walk into your Division office and ask the Division office team to contact police?