Handling Harried Students: How to manage grumbling and complaining in your class

By Dr. Larry Ruddell, Dean – Belhaven Houston

Teaching adult students provides a wonderful opportunity to bless students from varied backgrounds and also their “generations” and communities. However, it is not always a smooth path! Students with tough backgrounds, demanding schedules, family responsibilities and attending 6-10 pm classes after long work days can let frustrations overflow to professors in or out of the classroom.

So what do you we do? How do we handle “tough customers”?

To begin with, we shouldn’t be surprised when students grumble and complain. The Bible is replete with examples of people who are not happy. See Exodus 16; “And the whole congregation of the people of Israel grumbled against Moses and Aaron in the wilderness …” (Exodus 16:2 ESV). … and these are the people who literally saw God do miracles in freeing them from Egypt. As Hebrews 3:7-9 points out, the wilderness wondering could be seen as a test of faith given by God and the people responded by putting God to the test! (v 9)

Fortunately, there are some things we can do to reduce problems. As Romans 12:18 reminds us “If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.” (ESV) So let’s dig in with some specific steps we can take.

– Obviously we should pray for our students before class and audibly as class starts. The Holy Spirit is in charge of human hearts, so setting the tone is helpful

– Set a professional tone. The more the professor is organized, ready to go when class starts, has an agenda, shows enthusiasm for the course material and delivers great teaching until 10 pm … the less likely students will be dissatisfied.

– Head off potential frustration points through effective, proactive communication. It is important to give students a “pathway for success” by helping them clearly understand assignment requirements and particularly knowledge required by exams. So, make sure to review assignments in plenty of time so that you can clarify for students during class. Also, if a student contacts you about an issue that needs clarification, make sure that you let the rest of the class know as well!

– Be careful about making commitments that you don’t keep. As the Scripture reminds us, “let your ‘yes’ be ‘yes’ and your ‘no’ be ‘no’ …” (Matthew 5:37) We want to be responsive to students but make sure the words are backed up by action or it will frustrate students.

– If a student is upset, manage the relationship. As Proverbs 15:1 tells us, “A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.”

– Others are there to help. Your campus Dean is there to help along with student services. We are a team and different people have different capacities to reach different students!

In conclusion, we may face students who are upset but we want to avoid or manage those issues with Wisdom!

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