Managing Difficult Student Behavior
Maintaining an Effective and Safe Learning Environment
Faculty and staff may face behavior from students that is difficult for them to manage. Faculty and staff may be confronted with troubling, disruptive or threatening behavior. Many student services exist to support faculty and staff with difficult situations. Your supervisor or department chair, the Office of Community Standards and Conduct, the Counseling Center, Student AccessAbility and the campus police are some of the departments available for this kind of assistance.
If you feel a student is behaving inappropriately or is making you feel uneasy, you may find it helpful to talk over your concerns. Just speaking with another professional will sometimes clarify issues and help you resolve the problem. In addition, the University has created the Behavior Assessment and Intervention Team to assist with problematic student behavior.
Behavior Assessment and Intervention Team
The purpose of the Behavior Assessment and Intervention Team (BAIT) is to assist in protecting the health, safety and welfare of the UT Dallas community. BAIT:
- Reviews incidents when students' behavior may be disruptive or harmful to themselves or the UT Dallas community.
- Coordinates the University response to incidents.
- Develops strategies to manage threatening and disruptive behavior.
- Makes recommendations to University officials on appropriate action.
Starting college and other major life transitions are challenging and sometimes difficult to navigate. During this period, students encounter stress for a variety of reasons, including academics, family and romantic relationships, social situations, work and financial concerns.
While most students cope successfully with the demands of college life, some become overwhelmed.
What Can Faculty and Staff Do?
Interest and concern shown by a faculty or staff member may be a critical factor in helping a struggling student reestablish emotional equilibrium. Your willingness to respond to students in distress will be influenced by your personal style and beliefs about the limits of responsibility for helping students. Some students may be more open to assistance than others. Class size and the nature of your relationship with the student will also have an impact. It's important to be realistic about what you can offer when making a decision about how you can help.
Types of Problematic Student Behavior
Troubling behavior often causes us to feel worried, upset or alarmed. Faculty and staff members often feel concerned for the student's well-being when they encounter these behaviors. Examples of troubling behavior include:
- A dramatic drop in grades.
- Statements that FBI agents are following them.
- Comments or jokes about killing themselves or someone else.
- Excessively seeking out a faculty or staff member.
- Fragmented and disjointed writing, as if they cannot keep a logical thought sequence.
- Rambling and incoherent emails.
- Inexplicable emotional outbursts.
- Extended conversations out loud while alone.
Additionally, students with Asperger's disorder or high functioning autism may lack social skills, display unusual language, avoid eye contact or have low stress tolerance. If the student has special accommodations, faculty may consult with Student AccessAbility about understanding and working with the student. If not, you may consult with the Student Counseling Center to help determine if the behavior is harmless or might require intervention. Despite having special needs, students who behave oddly must conform to the UT Dallas Student Code of Conduct.
Interventions for Troubling Behavior
If you choose to approach a student you are concerned about, or if a student seeks you out:
- Talk to the student in private when both of you have time and are not rushed.
- Give the student your undivided attention. Just a few minutes of effective listening on your part may be enough to help the student feel comfortable about what to do next.
- Be direct and non-judgmental. Express your concern in behavioral, nonjudgmental terms, e.g. "I've noticed you've been frequently absent from class and I'm concerned," rather than "Why have you missed so much class lately?"
- Listen sensitively to the students' thoughts and feelings. Communicate understanding, summarizing the essence of what the student has told you. For example, "It sounds like you have felt depressed and it has affected your performance." Remember to let the student talk.
- Refer. Point out that help is available and that seeking help is a sign of strength. Inform students about places to go for help. In preparation, familiarize yourself with campus services.
- Follow Up. Following up is an important part of the process. Check with the student later to find out how he or she is doing. Provide support as appropriate.
Disruptive behavior is behavior that interrupts or interferes with daily functions of the University or the educational process. Disruptive students may resist corrective action or intervention. Examples of disruptive behavior include:
- A student who verbally intimidates others.
- A student who is excessively demanding of faculty or staff.
- Interrupting in class by:
- Making hostile remarks out of turn.
- Aggressively taking over the lecture.
Interventions for Disruptive Behavior
- Request that the student stop the disruptive behavior.
- If the problem continues, ask the student to leave the area or class.
- Speak with the student privately, preferably in the faculty or staff member's office. If you are uncomfortable meeting with the student alone, ask a colleague to join you.
- Apprise the student of the inappropriateness of the behavior.
- Explain the consequences if the behavior does not change.
- Document the content of the meeting.
- When indicated, provide the student with a written copy of the requirements and consequences.
- If the behavior continues, consult with the Office of Community Standards and Conduct regarding your next step.
If you don't feel comfortable managing a disruptive student or if you are unsure whether or not to report the student for a violation of the Student Code of Conduct, contact the Dean of Students. You may also complete and submit one of the following:
At times a student's behavior can cause others to be concerned for their personal safety. Examples of threatening behavior include:
- Direct threats to others or themselves.
- Displaying a weapon or firearm.
- Physically attacking someone.
- Harassing or stalking faculty, a staff member or another student.
- Threatening correspondence (letters, emails, text messages, etc.) to others.
Interventions for Threatening Behavior
The top priority is the safety and well-being of the campus community.
- Immediately contact the UTD Police at 972-883-2222.
- Notify the Dean of Students and submit a student behavior complaint.
- You may contact the BAIT chair, the VP for Student Affairs at 972-883-6236.
- To debrief or get support and advice, you may wish to contact:
- You may also submit a Discipline Referral Form or a BAIT Referral Form.