Friday Pedagogical Forum: The Cure for a Poisonous Classroom

September 25, 2009, 8:31 am

Sybil tells of the development of a troubling classroom dynamic: some of the male students in her survey course seem to have a hard time taking a pretty, young female instructor seriously, and as a result, in class they either doze, disrupt, or sulk.  Unfortunately, dealing with them has been hard on the other students, leading to a classroom atmosphere which is tense and generally unpleasant for everyone.

Sybil’s an experienced instructor and I suspect she doesn’t need advice and her post didn’t solicit any, but her difficulty struck me as an instance of a problem that easily generalizes away from the specifics of her situation.  Whatever the ultimate source of the toxin, it’s likely those of us who have taught have all had classroom environments become unpleasant and unproductive places.  (Not you.  You’re an excellent instructor.  Your friend.)

What’s worked to restore a pleasant environment in which to learn and teach?  What hasn’t?  If you’ve been a student in a class that foundered, what things worked to right the course?

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