How to Stop Student Bullying

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Did you ever have a student say something disrespectful in class…or worse…use foul language? If so, how did you respond? Did you address it or ignore it?
Did you know that 56% of all instructors would ignore it? But is that the best approach?
I was teaching a class with a group of undergraduate nursing students. One evening while the students were walking into the classroom, a few of them approached me to ask about an upcoming assignment. While they were talking to me, I heard Brittany say,
“Mrs. Thompson, Mrs. Thompson. Where did I put this CRAP?” as she held up her papers.
The word, “CRAP” immediately caught my attention but I was talking with other students and didn’t want to interrupt.
Then Brittany repeated herself. “Mrs. Thompson, Mrs. Thompson. Where do I put this CRAP?” as she held up her papers.
At this point, I had a decision to make. I could either just answer her and let the CRAP comment go, or I could address it.
I chose to address it.
I said, “Brittany, your paper work goes here (I pointed to the desk).” and then said, “And I’d like to speak with you after class.”
Brittany said, “Sure. No problem.” (I don’t think she had a clue).
After class, this is what I said to Brittany.
“When you refer to your paperwork as CRAP, you are disrespecting me, your peers and your school.” The look on Brittany’s face was apparent. I called her on her behavior and she knew it. “Can I count on you to be more respectful in class?”
We have to start addressing bad, disrespectful behavior in the academic environment! If we don’t, students enter into the professional work environment thinking it’s okay to behave that way.
Remember…what you ignore – you condone.
Regarding Brittany? From then on, she carried herself with a bit more maturity and a bit more respect. Oh, occasionally she slipped in another derogatory comment but quickly caught herself and apologized.
Thanks so much for reading. Would love to read YOUR comments about addressing bad behavior in the academic setting.
Take care and stay connected.
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8 thoughts on “How to Stop Student Bullying”

  1. Great topic, Renee, and a question for which there is no "right" answer.

    I have too many of these kinds of stories as well, having taught University courses for a few years. I had a student once blatantly reading the newspaper in the middle of class. Big guy, front row, newspaper fully spread open 10 minutes into the class period. I was stunned. I stopped what I was doing, addressed him by name and asked "If it's not too much trouble, would you mind putting that away?" With a sheepish "oh, sorry", he did. I then addressed the whole class and gently said: "Don't ever do that. Or anything like that. In any class. It's like holding up a giant sign, addressed to me, that says 'I have absolutely no respect for you or what you're talking about.' You're welcome to think that, and feel that, and believe that. But you don't demonstrate it. It's blatantly disrespectful and I know you're better than that."

    To his credit he stayed after class and gave me an incredibly heartfelt apology. And that's what I remember…not his bad behavior, but the remorse he demonstrated and the authenticity of his apology.

    When I work with other speakers I always preach that "It's YOUR room." Set the boundaries and expectations for how you want things to go and enforce them. Whether that's related to prompting discussion and participation, eliminating cell phones and interruptions, or calling out bad behavior. If someone doesn't want to be there, they'll leave and that's probably no loss.

  2. Love, love, love this!!! You are so right. It IS your class and your responsibility to control it.

    It's all about disruption. For example, if a student is sleeping quietly in the back of the room but isn't disrupting the other learners, you let it go but have a conversation with the student after class. However, if the student is sitting in the front or is have to address it immediately!

    If the behavior is disruptive…you address it immediately. If not, you address it after class.

    What you ignore – you condone.


  3. I have a "Swear Angel" jar that I display on my area in the classroom. The students all know that if "bad words slip out" they owe a quarter to the swear angel. I inform them the first day that disruptive comments carry over to the clinical setting and will not be tolerated. It is not professional and advise them it will not be tolerated in their work environment either. Seems to work for me.

  4. Hi Libby
    Thanks so much for commenting. Sorry for my delay! I love that you are not just ignoring this behavior. I especially like that you are setting behavioral expectations in the clinical environment.


  5. Hi Libby
    Thanks so much for commenting. Sorry for my delay! I love that you are not just ignoring this behavior. I especially like that you are setting behavioral expectations in the clinical environment.


  6. I'm a college maths lecturer interested in Jungian psychology. I work with my shadow in order to improve both my teaching practice and student behaviour. I have converted my shadow dialogues into a series of animations which are available on my website Here is a dialogue with my inner rebellious teenager. Healing this part of my shadow had a positive impact in the classroom.

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