42

In the freshman classes I teach (the class is like 30-35 students), some students would step out the class for 10-15 minutes and come back. The class time is 1 hour and 15 min. This is always interrupting.

I have asked the class before that this is a poor classroom etiquette, you have 15 min between classes to do whatever you want, so if you leave the class during the lecture please do not come back. Yet, they still do it.

Anybody is facing similar situation? and how you deal with it?

Clarification: I made it clear in class that if you need to leave, please inform me in advance. Or if you have a medical condition that requires you to leave regularly, please let me know. My question is not about those cases

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    I would have to say that not every student has the luxury of being able to do what they want for 15 minutes after class. Sometimes it takes me a full 15 minutes just to walk to my next class. – user28375028 Oct 24 '14 at 20:35
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    For clarification, I think the question should also state whether being present in the class is compulsory to achieve some goal, or voluntary. That can have a significant effect on how far you can afford to deter students from attending the class. Also, is it the fact that someone is leaving the room and coming back (which I find questionable - adults should be able to cope with that; from what I have seen, it is commonplace in conferences and business meetings, too), or way how they do it that appears to be so interrupting to you? – O. R. Mapper Oct 24 '14 at 21:55
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    What country is this in? – Mehrdad Oct 25 '14 at 6:35
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    To me it matters a lot whether the student makes an effort to be as unobtrusive as possible, given the physical layout of the room. For example, if I'm conducting a classroom discussion, and a student walks in front of me on their way out of the room, holding their cell phone, that's unacceptable, and I would call the student out on that. But if the student is pregnant and needs to pee every 30 minutes, and sidles out along a side aisle as unobtrusively as possible, I don't see how I could object. – Ben Crowell Oct 26 '14 at 0:13
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    Their loss. Unless they are walking on desks or something. – Ali Caglayan Oct 26 '14 at 17:00
131

The existing answers seem to me extreme. I don't think some sort of draconian blanket "leaving-the-room policy" is needed here. I would suggest the following:

  • For students leaving occasionally: Ignore it. They are adults and sometimes things in their lives may take higher priority than your class (e.g. going to the bathroom, feeling unwell, family emergencies, etc). If it's distracting to you, well, deal with it. It's a classroom, not a funeral, and you are a professional. Take a breath and get back to teaching.

  • If you see a particular student leaving often: Have a private word with them to see if things are okay. They may have special circumstances that you don't know about (chronic illness is one distinct possibility). Once you know their situation, you may be able to offer specific suggestions that will reduce the disruption and/or get them more engaged in the class.

  • If, after talking to them, you are convinced they are just walking out from spite, and they won't stop: Follow your institution's policy on disruptive students. Your department chair should have further guidance. It may ultimately be necessary to drop them from the class.

A short break in the middle of a 75-minute class is a reasonable idea, but I would keep it very short: perhaps 1-2 minutes, enough to stand up and stretch, not more. It should not significantly reduce the amount of time students spend on task. (Otherwise, as mentioned above, you may encounter problems with your institution's authorities that your class does not provide as much instructional time as promised by its number of credit hours. Moreover, some students will see it as wasted time and resent it.) Better yet, break up the lecture with some other sort of productive activity (small group discussions, problem solving, etc).

I don't think it's appropriate to publicly shame students for poor etiquette, or shut them out of class if they leave. You will unfairly punish students who legitimately need to step out for a few minutes, and anyone who is doing it from spite or boredom will just be further alienated.

  • 34
    I couldn't agree with this more - particularly with regard to illness etc. Even if a student appears otherwise healthy they may suffer from anxiety attacks or digestive problems, or even Thrombosis which would certainly require moving regularly! Don't ever shame a student without knowing their circumstances, you could do a lot of harm. Perhaps ask people who know they regularly need to leave, to sit themselves in the back corners? – Jon Story Oct 25 '14 at 1:15
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    Very good answer, except perhaps for the "use all of the 75 minutes" part. In my experience, many students (not to mention other people, like professors) can't or won't concentrate effectively for such a long, uninterrupted time. A 10-minute break in the middle might actually achieve more learning. – Thomas Padron-McCarthy Oct 26 '14 at 8:05
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    @Thomas: It might, but at many places that is not a decision the instructor has the authority to make. My point is that, rather than including a long break during which students are not doing anything, you can break up the time by having them do something different. My feeling is that this will be more effective than 75 minutes of lecture, with or without a 10 minute break. – Nate Eldredge Oct 26 '14 at 14:07
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    @NateEldredge Where does a professor or lecturer not have the authority to stop lecturing for five to ten minutes and say "okay, stretch break"? North Korea? – TylerH Oct 27 '14 at 16:04
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    @NateEldredge I agree that 10 minutes is pretty long for a 1 to 2 hour class, but I think two to five is pretty reasonable. It allows people to stretch, maybe get water if there's a water fountain outside the classroom, pee if they really have to, check over/catch up on notes, ask the professor a question about something without waiting for it become entirely irrelevant/forgotten, lets students check their phones, refreshes them and their attention spans for when you "start" the class back, etc. The benefits are myriad! – TylerH Oct 27 '14 at 20:04
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Have a 10-minute break in the middle of the lecture. (E.g., 35min lecture + 10min break + 30min lecture = 1h 15min in total.)

1h 15min is far too much without any breaks. There are plenty of studies that show that students do not really pay attention to the lectures more than for maybe 20-30 minutes in the beginning of the lecture (and for a short period of time right before the lecture ends), so by telling everyone to take a 10-minute break you are likely to improve the learning outcomes (even if you have got slightly less time for teaching).

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    @Moa: You do not get credits for sitting in a classroom, you get credits for learning things. – Jukka Suomela Oct 24 '14 at 20:51
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    @Moa: Don't you have the freedom to make the most effective use (= best learning outcomes) of the time that is allocated for your lectures? – Jukka Suomela Oct 24 '14 at 20:58
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    @EnthusiasticStudent: The same guy who guarantees that everyone is there on time when for the first lecture. Every student is of course responsible for making sure that they are there on time for the lecture. – Jukka Suomela Oct 24 '14 at 21:05
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    1h 15min is far too much without any breaks — [citation needed] – JeffE Oct 25 '14 at 15:41
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    I find it quite literally scary that there seem to be universities where an instructor cannot decide on her/his own whether to have a short break in class or not. – xLeitix Oct 26 '14 at 7:07
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Not to offend your teaching methods or style, but perhaps you should ask yourself why the students are leaving in the first place. I would suggest talking to one of them outside of class and asking honestly if there's something you can do to help their learning experience that is non-disruptive to the other students.

I had a professor who was brilliant but not good at teaching because he had difficulties relating to his students. Because of this, several students would leave for 10-20 minutes at a time in the middle of class because they felt they weren't getting anything out of the class. If your students need more stimulation during lecture, try switching up your teaching style once in a while. Include a little bit of interactivity with trivia or jeopardy-style extra credit in the middle of class to keep everybody participating and excited to learn.

  • 1
    "Because of this, several students would leave for 10-20 minutes at a time in the middle of class because they felt they weren't getting anything out of the class." Hm, but why only for 10-20 minutes and not for longer or forever? If they weren't getting anything out of the class, I don't understand why they would come back at all. To me this sounds more like they deliberately decided to perturb the class as much as possible, seeing that they can get nothing out of it. – Trilarion Dec 1 '16 at 10:23
4

In the classes I teach some students would step out the class for 10-15 minutes and come back. This is always interrupting.

Consider the following questions:

  • Can you rearrange your classroom so it's less distracting (door in the back rather than front or sides)?
  • Who is it distracting, you, or the other students?
  • Is it the same students?
  • Does it happen every day in every class, or is it more rare than that?
  • Are several people leaving and entering at random times throughout the period, or is it just two interruptions per class when it does happen?

The students are adults. They are free to make decisions about their time. Honestly, 1.25 hours isn't too long to expect an adult to sit and listen to a presentation or lecture. They do it all the time at any other performance, be it a movie theater, play, or otherwise.

You should first consider whether the interruptions are truly preventing the students from learning. If the only problem is that you are interrupted, then honestly you need to change so such interruptions don't bother you any more.

If you can alter the layout of the classroom, then a physical change might improve the situation.

Finally, if you truly feel that these interruptions are unacceptable and cannot be accommodated then you have the following options:

  1. Talk to those who leave. Do it after class every time they leave. "You understand that you are expected to attend the whole class period. If this was an emergency, then I can excuse it."
  2. Start giving out useful hints for upcoming tests/projects/etc. Save them for the time when people leave.
  3. Start making it an issue of attendance. "If you leave during class I will mark you absent." Alternately every three times they leave they get counted absent for one day.
  4. Start making it an issue of grades. "In-class attendance without breaks is a requirement for this course. If you do not attend, or you interrupt class to leave or exit between the start and end of class, it will impact your grade in the following ways."
  5. Start giving 5-10 minute pop quizzes. Keep some handy you can use at a moment's notice when people leave.
  6. Grow up. You are an adult. Your students are adults. You and your students can ignore the exit/entrance of a student and continue on without remark or change in pace. There's no need to punish those who leave. Make your presentations as informative and interesting as possible, then move forward and ignore those that leave or enter at inappropriate times.

Wasting your time and energy getting upset will only hurt you. Train your patience and ability to carry on in the face of adversity, and you'll become a more effective instructor.

  • 1
    "You are an adult. Your students are adults." Sure, but even adults get distracted by too loid noise and/or lots of movement. You cannot ignore it totally even as an adult or there wouldn't be do not disturb signs in libraries. So I kind of doubt it doesn't affect the other adult students and doesn't lower their concentration at all. There is probably some balance needed. – Trilarion Dec 1 '16 at 10:28
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Punishment

Attendance contributes 5% of the grade, I take it at the beginning or at the end of the class. May be a possible solution is to start taking it at random times?

Others already mentioned that students can have valid reasons to leave your class for 10 minutes, among other [*]:

  • health issues (anxiety issues, bladder problems, a bad back, etc.)
  • pregnancy
  • family emergencies (which can be quite regular in some cases)

Punishing them for these issues would not be the right thing to do, and it might very well violate your schools non-discrimination policy.

You should also keep this in mind when talking about the issue in class (because it can - depending on the situation - easily come across as public shaming and thus 1. discourage students from taking your class and - again - 2. violate the non-discrimination policy).

[*] If your students are leaving in small groups, these reasons could also explain that (good friends helping with an anxiety attack for example).

Suggestions on handling this

Ignore it. There are enough valid reasons that students might step out[*], and honestly, non of them are any of your business. And the students are already punished: They missed part of the class, and possibly cannot follow the rest of the class that well because of missing information, so they have to work at home to catch up.

If you still want to take action:

  • try to apply for a room that has exits at the back
  • analyze your material: are there parts of your class that are boring/unnecessary? students might be leaving because of this
  • create a questionnaire asking about this, which the students can answer anonymously

If you want to talk with the students about it:

  • do it privately and individually
  • apologize for bringing it up in class in front of everyone, suggesting that they have poor etiquette, and asking them to not come back
  • don't ask for their reasons, or at least accept "private" as a valid answer
  • ask how you can help them (for example, provide them with a seat closest to the exit)

[*] This is still true if some students step out just because they want to smoke. It is not ok to punish the students with good reasons along with the students with bad reasons.

  • Or bring it up in class and ask the other students what they think. Do they think it's disruptive? Would they generally appreciate a break halfway through? Is there a problem with the venue (e.g. bad air circulation which is ignored by some, but highly distractive for some others)? – tripleee Oct 27 '14 at 6:33
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    By punishment you're creating extra rules to check, and you may violate the academic rules that the lectures must not be compulsory. – user5657 Oct 28 '14 at 7:46
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At my university, there were classrooms where the outer door handle locked after class started. If you left, you couldn't return until someone let you in. To be clear, students could leave, but not return without assistance. This approach worked very well for interruption deterrence.

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    we have those doors in some rooms as well, and in my experience, they cause quite a distraction. Students leave just as often, but they cannot just sneak quietly back in, but have to knock, disturbing the whole class, and the student closest to the door, who has to stand up to open the door. – tim Oct 27 '14 at 14:23
1

IMHO grading based on attendance is not optimum. If a student who is there 50% of the time can learn everything a student who is there 100% of the time can, do they really need to be punished for it?

A compromise view might be: base the grade on various factors, like exams, attendance, participation, homework, and what not; with each student being given the option of an alternative weighing: mostly exams. If someone then does poorly on exams because they missed part of the class, that's their problem. But if they do well, why worry about seat time?

One thing I definitely dislike: someone comes in late and the instructor stops speaking and waits for the latecomer to sit down and settle in. And then complain about "what the latecomer did to disrupt the class" (guilt tripping). I think the instructor should just keep talking and let the chips fall where they may. (The latecomer/break taker must not of course be so loud as to make it impossible for the instructor to be heard.)

-2

The statement

if you leave the class during the lecture please do not come back

is ambiguous. If they leave class are they allowed to come back or not? The best solution in my opinion is not to create rules like this since it effectively backs you into a corner. Some things, like being respectful of classmates, need firm rules and require you to enforce them. Things like bathroom breaks probably do not, but if your ability to teach really depends on students not interrupting class, then you need to do something about it. the best thing would be to change your teaching style such that interruptions are not hugely distracting. If you cannot change your teaching style and students coming and going is hurting the rest of the students, then you need to do something about it.

I suggest at the start of the next class you clarify your original statement with:

If you choose to leave class during the lecture you will not be allowed to return.

Then the first time someone gets up to leave, interrupt the lecture and remind them they will not be allowed to return. The reason I suggest two warnings is this is a change in behaviour. If they leave and attempt to come back, stop your lecture and tell them to leave. Do not resume your lecture until they leave. Hopefully it will not come to it, but if necessary call the campus police to have them escorted from the classroom. One sacrificial student will probably be enough to regain control. The key is if you see students coming and going as a critical issue for you teaching you need to take control of the situation. Hopefully, you can modify your teaching to handle students coming and going.

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    Campus police seems like overkill (if I were a student in the class watching this unfold, I would probably drop that class ASAP) – ff524 Oct 24 '14 at 20:43
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    @ff524 I think it is unlikely to come to that, but if a student won't leave, then you are in a difficult situation. – StrongBad Oct 24 '14 at 20:49
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    Moreover, there are countries where there is no such thing as a campus police. But, in the end, do you really want to lose the respect of your students by calling a higher authorithy for something you should be able to deal with? – Massimo Ortolano Oct 24 '14 at 21:01
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    So, just to make things clear, are you proposing that the students should urinate on the floor or miss half the class? Yes, of course students should plan bathroom breaks between classes but sometimes plans go wrong, people get delayed, the cleaners pick a bad time to clean or there's a queue. Forbidding students to return to the classroom is draconian and ridiculous. Creating a huge disruption out of a small disruption is counterproductive and, frankly, stupid. – David Richerby Oct 25 '14 at 0:01

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