Friday, May 6, 2016

Managing the Angry Student by Helping them Help Themselves

Most students are open minded, pleasant and eager to learn. It is a joy to have them in class. Even in the best lot of bright minds you will come across a few students that seek to bully their way into a higher grade. It is that email, conversation, or phone call that starts out with an excited "Why did you give me that grade?" and "No other professor grades me so harsh!" which sets the tone for the rest of the conversation. Learning to manage an angry student can go a long way in furthering their learning while helping them help themselves.

While most students have been socialized properly there are some students who hold deeper anger and self-esteem issues that push them toward emotional outbursts. Understanding that such communication styles are based in the student and not the professor will help you put your mind at ease.  The issue isn't the grade itself but their fear of meeting the challenge and the poorly learned communication habits that have become ingrained throughout their lives.

Don't Overreact!

The first thing any professor should do is relax and take a deep breath. Some students have learned that if they get angry and project that anger onto others they will get a reaction that will help them. The hope is that something will be said which they can be used in their arguments, the grade will change due to frustration, or they will get an emotional reaction out of the professor that helps them feel empowered. Some professors even become fearful the student will cause them problems with their job.

Expect Civility

Your job is not to be an emotional punching bag nor is it to be responsible for the emotional outbursts of the student. Calmly remind the student that all communications will be civil. If the student refuses to engage in a civil conversation then you may either reschedule the conversation to a later time/date when emotions have subsided or let the student approach you again when they are calmer. If the student continues their aggression put them on notice and consider making an internal complaint.

Bring Them to Greater Awareness

It is important to help students understand what the grade represents and how they can raise those grades through focused effort. Students sometimes feel as though a C or B grade means they are not doing well and it reflects on their self-worth. They are focused heavily on the grade and not enough on learning that is supposed to accompany that grade. Helping them understand that it means they are doing well but can improve can go a long way in calming their fears.

Provide them substantive feedback and/or offer them resources that will help them come to greater awareness of an appropriate path. Sometimes it is beneficial to ask them questions and have them read supplemental materials on the topic or writing.  The more they read about expectations and performance the better off they will be.

Consider Changing the Grade

If the student has done all that you asked, answered your questions, read your materials, and successfully integrated the new knowledge then consider bumping their grade up. View it as extra credit. The point of higher education is to help them learn and develop. If they are doing this then the grade is less important. Don't let your ego get in the way of the student's flexible.

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