UIC TA Handbook – Resolving Difficult Situations

By Pamela Baker

Former Teaching Assistant, History
UIC College of Liberal Arts & Sciences


This past year of teaching, there were a handful of situations in which I wished I had responded differently to a student's problem. What I learned is that how I initially responded to a student's dilemma often determined how smoothly the problem could be resolved. Obviously there is no right way to handle a student. Probably the most important piece of advice I could give is to LISTEN. Students want to be heard. After listening, carefully con­ sider your response.

1) A student on the first day of class demands to know why you are qualified to teach the course.

You could respond: "I suggest you contact the Director of Graduate Studies or department chair for this information." Students who ask this question are attempting to disrupt the class. The easiest way to handle this situation is to redirect the student's question to the proper authority so that you can return to 2) A student claims that you have been unfair.

You could respond: "Would you please identify the specific problem." This ensures that both parties are focusing on the same issue. Next, you may ask the student what he/she wants you to do. Listen! Both questions show the student that you are interested in hearing his I her problem--this is half the battle. Some students may want to argue over specific points on an assignment in order to get you to change a grade. Explain your standards of grading and when appropriate refer back to the student's paper. Be firm!

3)            While in your office, a student raises his/her voice and becomes more and more agitated

You could respond: "I hear that you are upset over your grade, but perhaps we should reschedule this meeting for another time when we have both had a chance to think over the conversation." If a student does not respond to this suggestion, don't panic! Encourage this student to

meet with your faculty supervisor to discuss his I her questions. Then, take the opportunity to discuss the matter to your faculty supervisor.

4)            A student wants to discuss with you his I her grade on an assignment after class.

You could respond: "This is not the best time to go over your assignment. Would you like to schedule an appointment so that we can discuss the matter?" Explain to the student that this will give you time to reread the assignment so that you can make an informed response to the student's question. This also saves you the awkwardness of commenting on an assignment that you may have read a couple of weeks ago and in front of other students.

5)            A student interrupts your lecture with his I her point of view.

You could respond: "That is an excellent point." And then continue with your lecture. You may also request that any students wishing to make a contribution to the lecture /discussion raise their hand before speaking. If this is not effective, ask the student to stay after class and explain that these interruptions are distracting other students and are preventing you from covering all of the material.

6)        A student is disruptive in class.

You could respond: Making eye contact with the student disturbing your class is often the most effective way to eliminate the disruptive behavior. If this does not work, you may want to stop the lecture until the student quiets. A verbal warning is another effective remedy. As a last resort, ask the student to leave the class immediately. If a student refuses, you have the option of calling campus security.

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