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This happened two semesters ago, when I was teaching-assistant to a class of bachelor students. The lecturer had such marking weights, 30% for teaching assistant class including all the homework and his quizzes and 70% to the midterm and final exams.

At that semester, one of the students did not even attend one of my TA classes, did not solve any homework and also did not take any quizzes. I also gave some extra time to the students to give me their homework if they have missed some of them, but he did not give me any in that period of time.

He passed midterm and final exam with a passing mark and normally, I did not give him any mark for his TA part. His final mark was about 65%. I did not even know this guy personally.

After he was announced of his final mark, he called me by my mobile phone and started shouting and swearing to me over the line. I tried to calm him down and explain his wrong attitude towards the TA class but he did not pay attention. He continuously shouted and told me I will do this and I will do that to you! He never tried to make it clear why he was not working on homework or not attend the class. He expected that because he was good at final exam, I have to neglect his weak work in TA class.

I told him that if I give you extra mark for the homework you did not solve and the exams you did not sit, this will be unfair to other students who came to the class and worked on the course. I did not continue that conversation and turned my phone off. I really wanted to help him, but I found no way indeed.

After that, I did not even report him the the university police or the professor for his behaviour.

Was my attitude toward this lazy and angry student correct? How should teaching-assistants deal with such students who behave crazy? How should a TA calm his angry student down and talk to him logically and what should he do when they behave really bad to them?

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    @PatriciaShanahan I have put the information of the class in the department's notice board. I gave them the exact marking policy including the marks for exams and homework in the TA class during the semester in a printed A4-sized paper. The professor informed them of importance of attending the TA class in his class hours. However, I did not personally contacted the student to inform him "if you don't work on homework, you will lose marks." – Enthusiastic Engineer Oct 29 '14 at 13:37
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    If a student is being unreasonable, then just refer him to the member of faculty in charge of the course. Essentially by not being satisfied with your answer he is escalating the issue to the next level where it is out of your hands. If the marking policy was published there should be no expectation of any further warning about failure to submit homework, students should be treated as adults. – Dikran Marsupial Oct 29 '14 at 13:44
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    I agree with the many people who said you should tell the professor in charge of the course. If I (a professor) were in charge of a course that has TA's and if a student were to give my TA's problems of this sort, I'd certainly want to know about it immediately. – Andreas Blass Oct 30 '14 at 2:33
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    1) Why does the student have your phone number? Lesson learned. 2) Don't try to deal with them. You are not responsible. Forward them to the next person upwards in the hierarchy without discussion. – Raphael Oct 30 '14 at 9:47
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    @EnthusiasticStudent I have no experience with shouting students at all (they have formal ways of being angry here) but it also never ocurred to me to give students private contact information. (Being too available has its own downsides.) – Raphael Oct 30 '14 at 9:56
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As a teaching assistant, you should not be abused. If a student becomes angry and abusive, you need to disengage and pass the problem upwards. While TAs participate in the grading of a course, the responsibility and authority for dealing with any significant grading dispute with a student lies with the professor, not with any TA. It's OK for TAs to deal with minor problems presented calmly (e.g., "You added up the scores and got the wrong total"), but major disputes and angry students are not things a TA can or should attempt to handle.

If you are confronted with an angry student, do not respond to the content of the dispute. If you do so, you may say something that can cause a major problem for yourself or the professor later. Instead, just keep repeating something along the lines of,

"Please calm down. This is something that you need to talk to the professor about."

If the student persists to the point where you feel threatened, then you have both the right and the obligation to get campus authorities involved. A person who is extensively verbally abusive may become physically violent as well, and you need to protect yourself.

Once you have disengaged from the student, contact the professor immediately and explain the situation. At that point, it is the professor's responsibility to deal with the student, though they may need more information and input from you in deciding how to proceed.

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    This answer works for those higher up in the pecking order too. A professor having trouble with a dissatisfied student should be able to pass the problem up to his chair for backup. – Matthew Leingang Oct 29 '14 at 14:40
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    That student had talked to the professor at that time before calling me by phone. The professor had told him, it was the homework and he had to work on it. If he was missing the mark, it was his fault; not the TA's fault. At this point the student was so angry! Because he had no way to get the full mark of the course. – Enthusiastic Engineer Oct 29 '14 at 14:40
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    @EnthusiasticStudent If this person called you after talking to the professor, they probably fall into the category of someone who thinks nothing is their own fault. Make sure to keep a record of interactions with the student, particularly if the attacks continue. – Geoff Hutchison Oct 29 '14 at 14:50
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    I would just add that since "a person who is extensively verbally abusive may become physically violent as well," the obligation to get campus authorities involved is not only to protect ones self, but also potentially protect others. – Willie Wong Oct 29 '14 at 14:52
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    @O.R.Mapper When you are dealing with somebody who is just ordinarily upset or angry, I absolutely agree. When you're dealing with somebody who has already chosen to be abusive, however, you can't have a rational conversation. It's like dealing with an angry toddler (for any parents out there): you can't have a rational discussion until they calm down and decide to engage, rather than just attack. – jakebeal Oct 30 '14 at 12:22
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As mentioned in another answer, this falls into the general realm of dealing with angry people, not specifically students.

My suggestion in a situation like yours is to attempt to calmly disengage from the phone conversation as soon as possible. In many cases, you cannot make the student calm down.

I would then respond by e-mail to the student and CC the professor and any other relevant authority figure.

I've learned from personal experience that phone conversations or verbal interactions can be skewed later and mis-remembered by either or both parties. By responding by e-mail, you have increased the emotional distance from the student and provided a clear record in case of a later dispute. Moreover you have time to make sure your response is calm. I sometimes have trouble remaining calm when someone is yelling at me or verbally abusive.

Calmly explain your position and the grading policy. Attach a copy of the grading scheme from the beginning of the semester and make it clear in the e-mail that you do not appreciate the student verbally attacking you.

The student may dispute that they shouted or were verbally abusive, but because you CC the instructor, you have started a chain of evidence in case the student attempts to go over your head later.

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When a student is calling your personal phone to shout and swear at you, you're past the point when you should deal with the situation on your own. Contact the relevant university authorities, and let the professor know what's going on. (Don't ask the professor to handle it; let the university handle it, but keep the professor informed about the situation.) Don't try to calm down or reason with the student on your own; it's not going to be successful, and he's already crossed the line into the area where the university does need to be involved.

  • Contacting "the authorities" because someone gets angry in a phone call is over-escalation – einpoklum - reinstate Monica Dec 30 '17 at 11:05
  • "The authorities" doesn't mean the police. As in any other job, there are higher-ups who have the ability and the responsibility to deal with this sort of thing. – anomaly Dec 30 '17 at 20:52
  • I didn't say "the police". – einpoklum - reinstate Monica Dec 31 '17 at 1:26
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As a doctoral student with prior TA experience, I would say the first step should be to talk with your direct supervisor. Universities have great professionals in place to handle these situations. If this angry student disrupts the classroom and/or impedes your ability to do your job, you should send this issue up your chain of command so to speak. There are certainly techniques you can learn in communicating with students in the case of isolated and acute occurrences. But, if this is an ongoing problem, it should be handled by the University.

However, I should note, as we were instructed by our university police captain during TA training, the moment a student becomes belligerent and refuses to cooperate you should 1) dismiss the class and 2) call university police. Dismissing the class is a good move because many students who are acting up like having an audience and sending the class out may help to calm down this individual. You run into a lot of different people in the University setting and you never know what they are going through in their lives (e.g. substance-abuse, etc.). If you ever feel uncomfortable or unsafe don't hesitate to call the police. They are there for you.

P.S. Don't ever give out your cell phone number to your students. If they need to reach you outside of class they should make an appointment or send you an email.

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Credentialed (licensed) teachers are trained to know the school and state's established policy on such interactions. Make sure you know these or at least where they are so you can refer to them before taking action of any kind. I find this very helpful in reducing the burden of such decisions as dealing with angry and abusive students AND staff.

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