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I got a job 6 months ago as a university lecturer. I was assigned two subjects with the same students. Due to COVID-19, classes are online and lectures are recorded.

From the beginning, the majority of the class was ill-mannered. They would make noise by opening microphones, opening cameras, removing other students, muting my mic. When I threatened to involve the chairman, they said "he is our buddy."

So I made some rules, threatening to mark students absent if this continued. The whole class then requested a meeting and asked me to discard these rules. I agreed. Since then, the students have largely stopped their shenanigans with the microphone and camera. But only a few are engaging with the material and answering or asking questions during lecture.

I try calling on them one by one, to ask if there is any confusion, and they always say they don't understand anything. This hurt my feelings. So I said them that tell me that will they be responsive in my class or I will talk to chairman. No one replied except one student, who said "as you wish."

I called chairman I was about to start my point but before that he told me: be soft with your class, they have issues with you, they have complained to me and sent me a recording. He said that he didn't watch the recording, but I should be careful.

I asked one student (the one who instigated the discussion about the rules) whether they still have an issue with me, and she said no. I said asked why she complained about me when issues were resolved among us. She denied making the complaint. But clearly someone has a grudge against me.

I am really hurt by these allegations. The situation is getting worse day by day.

Did I do something wrong? What should I do differently? Should I be worried about losing my job?

  • @jonathon Did you consent to being recorded? And where are you based. Might be a good opportunity to talk to students about eavesdropping laws in your jurisdiction. In a lot parts of the world recording someone without consent is illegal. – Polygnome Jul 4 at 20:19
  • This was extremely difficult to parse -- I and others took a stab at editing it; please feel free to edit further if we introduced any errors. – cag51 Jul 4 at 22:06
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    On a related note -- are you teaching in English, or in your native language? I ask because your difficulty in formulating this question suggests that the real issue is that your lectures are similarly unclear and confusing (which leads to disgruntled students). But if you are giving lectures in your native language, then I'm less confident in my diagnosis. – cag51 Jul 4 at 22:12
  • If you don't speak fluently in the same language as the students do, then maybe you can try to write many more examples in a clear and simple manner on the blackboard or computer notes to illustrate your lectures. Excellent visual examples can compensate very well for the less-than-perfect verbal communication skills. Don't let the students' reactions hurt your feelings. Good luck. – Texas_September_2020 Jul 5 at 5:35
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    Punishing an entire group for something clearly due to actions of a minority is something I've only seen work in movies about military training. And even then it only works because, well, it's military training. (I'm referring to your comments before they got edited / deleted). You also turned their feedback, which you solicited, into a new way of punishing them, by making rules about participation. I would ask another faculty member to observe your class for a while and take their recommendations for fixing the situation. – Chan-Ho Suh Jul 5 at 20:50
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Advising on what I think is a key point here.

So I made some rules, threatening to mark students absent if this continued. The whole class then requested a meeting and asked me to discard these rules. I agreed.

This is the kiss of death. It's a common mistake for first-time teachers. I made the same mistake in my first semester.

You need to signal that your standards, rules, decisions, and adjudications are firm and basically not subject to retraction later. There's a "blood in the water" aspect that once a cohort of students have learned that they can control you... they will control you. They've learned that your rules are not really rules and they will ignore any kind of further demands you try to make on them.

You've compounded this with entirely empty threats about having the chairperson get involved. Now the students have a rather lengthy body of data that your rules and threats are simply not to be believed.

Frankly, there is no recovering from this for your first semester. You just need to take your lumps and survive the semester as well as you can. Next semester you need to come in with well-thought-out, clearly communicated protocols and stick to them. If you have a rule then you need to enforce it to build credibility and trust. I did much better starting in my second semester regarding this.

I hesitate to bring this up, but in the U.S. there's an idiom about entry to a prison where you need to expect to fight the first person who crosses you to prove your credibility. As a broad allegory I've found this to be helpful. A sharp, clear, confident "No" to the first student who asks (esp. publicly) for you to retract or waive a rule does wonders in communicating credibility and trustworthiness.

My overall strategy is to be very strict at the start of a term, and then in some cases later in the term be a bit more generous in terms of allowances (esp. with students who have themselves established credibility with me). I guess this also echoes some aspects of U.S. boot camp strategy -- one student of mine from Pakistan, who said his father was a general in the military there, made a guess that I'd been in the military myself. There are some lessons one can take for a situation like the OP is in.

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    Thanks. Finally someone understood me. Can I control the same students in next semester? Or can I face them after pandemic? Won't they laugh at me? – jonathon Aug 3 at 23:27
  • @jonathon: Maybe. Hopefully there won't be many in that category. – Daniel R. Collins Aug 3 at 23:31
  • Your answer is not clear to me, can you explain? – jonathon Aug 3 at 23:32
  • Is asking class representative student about my teaching way, will be appropriate? That "do they still have complaints about me which they had in the strat of semester"? – jonathon Aug 3 at 23:40
  • @jonathon: I'm not familiar with the concept of a class representative student, so I couldn't say. – Daniel R. Collins Aug 4 at 0:08
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From the beginning, the majority of the class was ill-mannered. They would make noise by opening microphones, opening cameras, removing other students, muting my mic.

This seems like a technical problem; I really can't believe any modern software wouldn't have a way to disallow this behavior. I would start by investigating this.

When I threatened to involve the chairman, they said "he is our buddy."

This seems like a bit of an illogical response on your part. Classroom control is your responsibility. What do you expect the chairman to do?

So I made some rules, threatening to mark students absent if this continued. The whole class then requested a meeting and asked me to discard these rules. I agreed. Since then, the students have largely stopped their shenanigans with the microphone and camera. But only a few are engaging with the material and answering or asking questions during lecture.

In general, setting draconian rules and then repealing them entirely will make you seem erratic. In this case, it is true that students muting your microphone and expelling each other during lecture is a serious problem that you have to solve "at any cost." Still, it seems like there had to have been a better option. Do your colleagues have this problem? How have they dealt with it?

I try calling on them one by one, to ask if there is any confusion, and they always say they don't understand anything.

So, this is the crux of the matter: I suspect your lectures are completely incomprehensible. Reasons I suspect this:

  • Your students are outright telling you "I don't understand anything."
  • It would explain your students' antics with the microphone.
  • You had extreme difficulty in formulating your question here -- both language-agnostic skills (filtering the important information, organizing it, even breaking into paragraphs) and English-specific syntax.

Now I could be wrong, so I suggest you start by getting a colleague to sit in on your lecture and give you some honest feedback. If I am right, I can't tell you how to improve your teaching, but I think you need to take drastic action -- anything from getting better teaching mentorship to signing up for education classes could be worth trying.

This hurt my feelings. So I said them that tell me that will they be responsive in my class or I will talk to chairman. No one replied except one student, who said "as you wish."

I called chairman I was about to start my point but before that he told me: be soft with your class, they have issues with you, they have complained to me and sent me a recording. He said that he didn't watch the recording, but I should be careful.

Yeah, two issues here:

  • You can't force student engagement. Chastising them will only make matters worse. You could try making participation part of their grade; however, I would first make sure your lectures are good, otherwise students will be rightfully angry that you are forcing them to participate in incomprehensible lectures. You may be better off just working with the students who do engage and allowing the others to sit in silence (which is what the chairman suggested).
  • Threatening to go to the chairman clearly has no effect -- the students don't seem to care and the chairman does not seem to be on your side.

I asked one student (the one who instigated the discussion about the rules) whether they still have an issue with me, and she said no. I said asked why she complained about me when issues were resolved among us. She denied making the complaint. But clearly someone has a grudge against me.

Major mistake -- this will give the impression that you are angry with the students for going to the chairman. Further, due to the power imbalance, it is inappropriate to single out a student in the way that you did. While it would be nice if students resolved their complaints with you rather than going to the chairman, students do have the right to complain about you, and the optics of chastising students for doing so are horrible.

I am really hurt by these allegations. The situation is getting worse day by day.

Did I do something wrong? What should I do differently? Should I be worried about losing my job?

A good rule of thumb is that it's normal for a few students to be unhappy with you (maybe even more than a few, under certain circumstances), but a serious problem if the majority of the students are unhappy with you. Since the class seems to be pretty unanimously against you, I think you need to make some changes.

My recommendations:

  1. Solve your technical problems with the online system.
  2. Get a colleague to give you some honest feedback about the quality of your lectures. If they are bad, take drastic action to improve them (note, this could take years).
  3. Stop trying to control the students' behavior. Focus your energies on giving good lectures and assessing their learning fairly.
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First be kind to yourself:

  • You started only 6 months ago, it's normal to have difficulties at the beginning, especially if the students are not motivated.
  • The Covid19 lockdown measures made it harder for everybody. Even experienced teachers struggled to adapt, so as an inexperienced teacher it was especially difficult.

It seems to me that you didn't have any support from your institution and/or colleagues. In normal times teachers can discuss together informally and occasionally share tips, but you didn't have this opportunity.

It is a common issue for young teachers to try "too hard" to establish their authority, and as a result to end up in a confrontational relation with the students. There are other, better ways.

As usual, communication is key: in order to progress, you need to talk to the chair and to any other colleague who can help you. Don't be afraid to talk about your difficulties and to ask for advice, there's no shame in trying to improve.

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    I talked to my chair, and asked her to investigate students whats the problem. He said" If 4 students are responding teach them, leave others they will never respond" – jonathon Jul 4 at 19:09
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Teaching is not an easy job and you are on a learning curve. This has been made more difficult due to present circumstances arising due to the pandemic.

I wonder how students can expel others when you are the admin. What kind of software are you using? I believe there must be a way for you to avoid that.

A suggestion: Is it possible to divide the class into two and take two separate sessions. This way you will have more control and students will get divided.

Talk to fellow teachers and create a class leader among students for you to open a channel with students. Communication is the key as mentioned above. Tell the class leader to communicate to you any problems the students are having so that you can address it. You can also communicate your issues to him to be passed on to students.

Make class more engaging. Maybe start with a youtube video and use more engaging content.

Most importantly, do not lose your nerve under any circumstance and everything will be fine.

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