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As a new semester of school approaches I have begun updating my syllabi for the classes I teach. I have lately used a clause in the syllabus about no children in the classroom as I feel it is a distraction to both me and the other students. Having been in classes both as a student and as an instructor where children are present, I find it necessary now to have such a written statement.

However, there are a few mad parents who dislike such a clause. Some of these young parents feel that they should be able to bring their kids to class, as they otherwise would need to drop out of school because they do not have enough money to hire a sitter. I feel that this is just "how it is," and is part of being a responsible adult.

Do other universities have policies about children in the classroom? How can I reach a happy medium of not coming across as a complete jerk, but still maintain a level of education in my classroom?

Added: I am of the feeling that we many times need to make a rule because of that "one guy/girl" who ruins it for everyone. My stand as it is right now is that we need to come down firmly in writing, then adjust with leniency as people show they can handle having their kid in class. I am not ridiculous about my classroom rules, but I prefer to give it straight, then relax the standard if needed.

Also, as a matter of scope, I teach at a conservative Christian university. Many of the students married young and have a kid or two.

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to me it is rather weird to have kids in the classroom, I rarely ever experienced this and I don't think this happens a lot in my culture (of course there can always be exceptional circumstances). If this happens regularly (which is implied by your question, i.e the students always bring along their kids) it is quite obvious that there is a need for child-care. So this might be an momentum to step up in university politics and demand proper and affordable child-care for students (e.g. on most German campuses there are kindergartens). –  dirkk Aug 16 at 9:20
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While your statement is fundamentally correct, I think it is a bit naive that the OP (a master student according to his profile) is in a position to "step up and demand affordable child care". –  xLeitix Aug 16 at 10:08
    
@xLeitix maybe not himself, but it is likely more senior professors with whom he has a relationship have the same issues, and can be convinced. –  Davidmh Aug 16 at 11:04
    
I guess this is not happening only into your class ans is a global situation in your situation. In addition, having children in a university raises safety/insurance issues. You should ask your administration or more senior teachers how they deal with this situation. –  Taladris Aug 17 at 5:46
    
@xLeitix sorry, I did not see that (from the question I figured the OP is a (junior) professor). If the OP is a TA and not an independent lecturer I would simply ask the professor for this course. Still, the main point still holds, but of course your possibilities in university politics are much more limited as a student. –  dirkk Aug 17 at 9:08

4 Answers 4

up vote 29 down vote accepted

In my years of teaching in Asia I have had one class session where a student brought a child with him. It was an exceptional case but I was surprised he did not ask for permission. The child was well behaved (maybe 7 years old) and sat in the back not disturbing the class in any way. For this reason, I let it slide and I might be willing to accept it happening in the future.

However, I do make it quite clear to my students, I am the captain of this airplane and I will not tolerate ANYTHING which negatively impacts the learning environment. This includes anyone who disturbs the learning process in any way. I agree with Pete L. Clark - it is not a childcare issue. You need to focus the students on it being a learning environment issue. If a student does not turn off their ringing phone, out they go. If someone dresses in a way which distracts students or me, out they go. If anything exists which negatively impacts the learning process for even one of my students, out they go.

I'm pretty strict on this and I don't generally have problem because of that.

Back to your core question: How do you maintain a level of education while not being a jerk? You focus on the real issue. The real issue is not kids, the issue is disruptions. While you can be forgiving and understanding, to do so in a way which negatively impacts your students should never be accepted.

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+1 from me. Perhaps your response is better than mine: the key is the distraction to the classroom environment. That it comes from an unregistered person may give a particular regulation to point to but is not really the crux of the matter. Your response also covers, say, bringing pets into the classroom. It is also interesting to hear from someone who teaches in Asia. –  Pete L. Clark Aug 16 at 2:09
    
Thanks for the reply. It is good to get backing from someone with experience in Asia on this topic. –  Vladhagen Aug 16 at 3:10
    
This is really the most important point. Everyone else in the class is paying a lot of money for the service of an education. It cannot be acceptable to compromise the quality of the service that everyone has paid for in order to accomodate an individual. If having a child in the lecture hall is a distraction, the answer is pretty clear cut. –  J... Aug 16 at 13:27

Most universities I know have both a cultural understanding and formal regulations that the only people who are allowed in the classroom are those that are registered for the course, except where explicitly permitted by the instructor. (Thus for instance one has the notion of "auditing" a course: this basically means that you are not signed up to take the course for a grade and will not complete the required coursework / take any exams, but you do have the instructor's permission to sit through the class meetings.) This is a defensible regulation: without it, who knows who would show up for a course, taking up possibly limited space and occupying the attention of the instructor and/or the other students?

Children are people, right? I would thus frame the discussion in that way: you're not discriminating against someone because they're a parent. You're just not allowing people in the classroom who are not registered for the course.

I am somewhat surprised that this is a problem for you at all, and I wonder where you are teaching and if the cultural mores and regulations are different there. I don't know of any American university in which people would think they could bring children to class except in some truly exceptional/emergency situation in which they have received the instructor's permission. In any case, I would advise you to look up your university's specific policy on "unregistered attendees". Assuming it is along the lines of what I am suggesting you should, at most, modify your syllabus to quote from and/or link to this general policy. Don't make the issue about child care at all.

Added: I just looked at your profile and saw that you say you are in South Korea. As I said, both cultural mores and regulations may well be different there, and if it is very common for students to bring children to class, that makes me much less confident that rules or customs are being violated. So to adjust my answer for this: "Do other universities have policies about children in the classroom?" Not policies specific to children, but more general policies and also different expectations that mostly prevent the issue from coming up. But I don't know what other South Korean universities do and anyway, your university is your university: it is (I suppose!) allowed to do things its own way. If you do not find written regulations of the sort I mentioned above, I would talk to your colleagues -- and especially, to tenured faculty; I also see that you are a master's student, which also may be relevant in terms of how much you are permitted to rock the boat -- and find out how they deal with the situation. If several other faculty members have successful "no children in the classroom" policies, then you should be able to implement yours. If you are the only one you know in your university who wants a "no children in the classroom" policy: because you are a graduate student instructor, I would advise against pursuing that.

Further Added: Please read the comments below about "drop ins". The policy I describe above is very standard in the United States. It seems that in certain European universities the culture (and perhaps regulations) are quite different.

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"... the only people who are allowed in the classroom are those that are registered for the course, except where explicitly permitted by the instructor." - I'd just like to point out this can be very different in other places. At the European universities I have seen, it was never thought of as a problem (not even "forbidden in theory, but tolerated") that at the very least students of the university may attend any lecture. You walk past a lecture hall of whichever subject and whichever major, you see an interesting slide being displayed inside and got some time? No problem, simply enter ... –  O. R. Mapper Aug 16 at 7:58
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... and have a seat, expand your knowledge into a new direction. Of course, if there is really no space left for students who really need to attend the class for some reason, one will have to decide on a case-by-case basis, but the default situation is certainly that as a member of the university (student, employee), you are allowed to spontaneously attend any course you like. (I've written at least above, because the common understanding is that external people will also do so every now and then - people interested in studying, relatives who want to get a taste of where their younger ... –  O. R. Mapper Aug 16 at 8:02
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... family members are studying, business visitors who spontaneously decide to get an impression of the teaching of the university that they work together with in the time they have to wait for their train or plane, etc.) From that viewpoint, your initial statement that you'd hav to register or else explicitly ask for permission by the lecturer just to be allowed in the lecture room sounds extremely restrictive to me and hence I think it is rather a local peculiarity rather than "universal and [globally] defensible", as you suggested. –  O. R. Mapper Aug 16 at 8:04
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"the only people who are allowed in the classroom are those that are registered for the course": Here in Finland all normal university lectures are public events, open to the general public. So "not being registered for the course" is no excuse to forbid someone from attending the lecture. ("Disturbing the lecture" is of course a good reason.) –  Jukka Suomela Aug 16 at 9:10
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As a third European datapoint, when I was an undergrad in the UK, the policy was that any member of the university (student or staff) could attend any lecture except medicine, as long as their presence wasn't preventing somebody who was registered for the course from attending. Tutorials, practicals and so on were only available to people who were registered on the course. –  David Richerby Aug 16 at 10:44

Being a parent and a college student is tough. Not everybody has good access to childcare and even if they do, things happen. Surely the mere presence of a child in class can't be much of a distraction except for a few moments at the start of class. If the child is quiet and well-behaved, why not allow it? (Your policy could say that distractions, including noisy children, are not allowed.) It'll make some of your students' lives just a bit easier.

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While this is true, you must also consider the aggregate impact. One quiet child in a class of 70 students might be OK but 50 quiet children in a class of 60 students could easily be quite distracting. –  earthling Aug 16 at 5:20
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110 people in a room meant for 60 would be distracting. :-) I get your point, but realistically not many people would bring children to class. –  jaia Aug 16 at 6:03
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@earthling: It is almost entertaining to imagine a class with 50 children and 60 students. I'm sure it makes a good subject for a comedy. –  Vahid Shirbisheh Aug 16 at 13:42

I am now a student for 3 years in Germany (Karlsruhe Institute of Technology). I tried to find anything "official" about children in lecture halls, but that was not successful.

I have only seen students with their children in a lecture about 3 times. (There might have been more children, but I probably didn't notice)

Twice, the children were silent. Only once I've heard one of them. Then the mother went pretty quickly out of the lecture and came back (with the baby) about 15 minutes later. Nobody said anything.

What I think as a student

As long as children don't make noise and as long as the lecture hall isn't crowded I can't see any reason for them not to be there. When the child is loud, then the parents should directly go out with him/her. Most lectures aren't that silent that it is bad when you hear a baby cry for a few seconds.

However, when the child is distracting other students / the professor then the child has to leave the lecture hall.

What I would do in your situation

I see two ways to deal with the issue.

Opt-child-in

You could forbid children in your lectures. But if students really have problems, they might come to you and want to speak with you about it. Then you should make clear that you can make an exception, but only if it works. That means if the child is distracting you / other students, the parents have to search a solution.

I would go for this solution if there are many children who don't know how to behave in a lecture.

Opt-child-out

Don't forbid children directly. When there are problems, you can speak with the parents. You can tell them that their child distracts other students and hence they should not bring it again to lectures.

I would go for this solution if there are only occasionally children who distract lectures.

More thoughts

You could ask parents to take a seat in the back / close to the door. This way they can quickly go out when the child/baby is loud.

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