Academic journal article Academy of Educational Leadership Journal

Faculty Perceptions and Encounters with Disrespectful Student Behavior

Academic journal article Academy of Educational Leadership Journal

Faculty Perceptions and Encounters with Disrespectful Student Behavior

Article excerpt


Pre-Civil War records show disruptive student behavior occurred at America's most prestigious institutions, such as Yale, Johns Hopkins, Princeton, and Harvard (Brubacher & Rudy, 1997, p. 50). College governance consisted of rigorous control of student behavior in and out of the classroom. Paternalistic discipline and elaborate punishments were designed to control "restless and unruly boys" with a "straight jacket" of petty rules. Regulations existed for virtually every aspect of student life: promptness, attendance at classes, dancing, drinking, swearing, idling, dressing, gambling, and prayers. The pre-Civil War college student responded to the disciplinary system and rules with violent and open rebellion, such as riots and street brawls, and even ransacking the Harvard Commons.

Much of the college student classroom behavior today is far less dramatic, more diluted, and stealthier than many of the accounts in Brubacher and Rudy (1997). However, many members of society including those on campuses feel a growing disdain for courtesy, civility, and manners (The Academic Senate for California Community Colleges, 1996, p. 3.). Often groups and individuals on campus have little awareness or concern for the customs and values of other groups.

Today's college faculty members are likely to see various types of disruptive behavior, including covert and overt behaviors. More passive covert behaviors include sleeping during class, arriving to class late, leaving class early, or generally acting bored and disengaged. Observable and open overt behaviors include students talking during class, using cellular phones, eating noisily or slurping their drinks (Meyers, 2003, 9498).

While many of these behaviors are defined as misbehavior, or a "behavior that is considered inappropriate for the setting or situation in which it occurs (Charles, 1999)," they also can be classified as disruptive behavior. Findings from a recent survey of college alumni found that disruptive behavior could be a major learning inhibitor and negatively impact student retention (Seidman, 2005, p. 40). The effects on faculty members range from an inability to handle or cope with such behavioral problems, to apathy and/or frustration, to teacher burnout (Evers, Tomic, & Brouwers, 2004, p. 132).

Some faculty members assume that college students know how to behave in a classroom and demonstrate proper classroom etiquette. Faculty expectations of students' behavior are based on assuming simple and obvious standards of social decorum. However, because of changing cultural norms, diversity in social class, age, lifestyle, and ethnicity, some of these classroom etiquette assumptions are not simple and obvious, and may be somewhat fuzzy (Boice, 1986, 1993; Emerick, 1994; and Williams, 1994).

For example, some faculty may perceive students who wear baseball hats indoors and particularly in the classroom, as rude and lacking in social graces; while others may not view baseball hats as inappropriate or may not even notice this way of dressing (Tom, 1998, p. 515). Furthermore, faculty perceptions could identify these behaviors and dress styles as acts of insolence, incivility, and insubordination, while students' behavior may simply stem from ignorance, or differences in definitions and perceptions of acceptable behavior.

Faculty often must balance expectations of what seem to be established, traditional standards of etiquette, with an understanding and tolerance of changing demographics and acceptable behavioral norms, exacerbated by communication and technology advances (Tom, 1998, p. 516). Rather than presuming that common forms of etiquette are obvious to diverse groups, faculty might consider discussing classroom etiquette expectations on the first day of class. Emerick (1994) included written normative expectations of student behavior in his course syllabus; these were shared with the first year students on the first day of class. …

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