There has been a lot written regarding creating a positive classroom environment. However, one area of emerging interest is classroom incivility. We focus on this area as a means to provide specific direction in managing incivility and as a means to better understand the importance of maintaining a positive control over the class to create a performance-centered environment.

What Causes Student Incivility?

From news reports and higher education literature in recent years, it is evident that student incivility is creating a negative undercurrent on many college campuses. Incivility is defined as disruptive student behavior intended to interfere with the teaching and learning process of others (Morrissette, 2001; Royce, 2000). As the recent incident at Virginia Tech illustrates, extreme cases can result in physical assaults or murder of faculty members (King, 1996; Ristine, 1996; "Professor shot to death during exam in Detroit," 1998; Schneider, 1998; Watson, 1998), the more common incidents involve rude behavior in the classroom (Clark & Springer, 2007; Clayton, 2000; Heinemann, 1996). Examples of such behavior include reading the newspaper, cell phone use, talking during class, coming in late, and verbally discrediting or abusing faculty or fellow students. Typically, the inappropriate behavior of a few students negatively impacts the learning environment for all and results in faculty and student stress, discontent, and burnout (Appleby, 1990). Such incidents have prompted a number of universities, such the University of Colorado at Boulder, University of Texas at Austin, and Indiana University, to hold forums and provide information to assist faculty via their teaching centers. Likewise, professional associations such as the National Education Association (NEA) and the American Association of Higher Education have posted bulletins on their websites, offering suggestions of ways to counter student incivility. Despite these efforts, it is argued that this issue is largely under-publicized. Why is this so?

Ironically, one of the biggest reasons is faculty reluctance to disclose inappropriate student behavior (Boice, 1996). Evidence suggests that such incidences are more likely to happen to females and faculty of color (Alexander-Snow, 2004; Royce, 2000) and to those who are most vulnerable in terms of their employment status with the university, such as junior faculty, teaching assistants, or adjunct faculty. Many indicate that they are embarrassed by the situation and fear that, by reporting student incivility, they will appear incompetent or unable to manage their classroom environment (Carlson, 1998; Downs, 1992; Hernandez & Fister, 2001). In addition, many faculty members do not believe that they would have support from university administration when reporting such behavior (Clayton, 2000; Morrissette, 2001). Because of enrollment competition, faculty sense that there is more of a "customer service" orientation on many campuses and that administration would not be supportive in dealing with such issues. Given the rather private nature of teaching, discussions about student classroom conduct rarely occur in departments on campus, leaving faculty feeling isolated and "on their own" in how to address such behavior (Amada, 1992). Consequently, many choose to ignore or "give in to" student incivility which only serves to compound the problem (Clayton, 2000).

So, why do such incidences occur? Many would argue that these are cases of "students behaving badly." Richardson (2000) indicates that, while college students are awarded certain adult privileges by society such as voting and military service, they are typically new to life away from home and the demands of college life, thus lacking in maturity. Levine and Cureton (1998) echo this when describing college students as distrustful of leadership, lacking in confidence of social institutions, and being ill prepared for the rigors of academe. Students are cited as having a "consumer mentality" and thereby, see faculty as service providers, not authority figures ("Managing Behavior," 2003). In addition, students generally do not see their behavior as having a bearing on their education or future success.

However, others see incivility as being initiated by faculty behavior. For example, Boice (1996) concluded that faculty members' lack of immediacy behaviors (warmth and approachability) during the first few days of class have a significant impact on the likelihood of classroom incivility. Faculty members also tend to see their role as an "expert" who imparts knowledge and fail to engage the students in an active learning environment, leading to feelings of frustration for the student (Richardson, 2000). Thomas (2003) found that students were angry about unexpected changes to the course syllabus, rigidity, and being overly critical. Likewise, another study which tapped student perceptions of disrespectful instructor behavior found evidence of failure to show concern and sensitivity to students' situations (Buttner, 2004). There are additional situational factors that contribute to the problem, such as large class sizes, greater use of adjunct or part-time faculty, and lack of training of faculty as effective teachers ("Managing Behavior," 2003).

< Prev   CONTENTS   Next >