Classroom Behavior, Part I: What You Need to Know

Before college, there were lots of guidelines on how you should conduct yourself in the classroom. No gum, no food or drink, asking permission to leave the room, etc. In college, there are still norms for appropriate behavior in the classroom, albeit different from your high school setting. These norms are much more subtle and aren’t always spelled out by your instructors. Here are a few common situations and resolutions¬†for classroom behavior that allow your instructor to deliver lectures with minimal distractions to your fellow classmates.

1. Your previous class is on the other side of campus and you might be a minute or two late to class.

My best advice to you is to talk to you instructor to let him/her know your situation. You’ll find that instructors are pretty understanding about this. Make sure that you don’t take advantage of your instructor’s patience by being more than a few moments late. If lecture has already started, avoid distracting classmates by pulling out a notebook and pen before walking in the door; take a seat in the back of the room or nearest to the door as quietly as you can.

If you had a random one-time crisis that caused you to be more than 5 minutes late, I say you should still go to class. Every minute that you aren’t in class is money wasted. Check in with your instructor immediately after class to explain what happened and ask if office hours would be an appropriate venue for getting caught up (which it usually is). If your instructor is expecting you during office hours, make sure to show up. It’s a lot easier to help student when she shows up and she’s more likely to get help when a student shows an interest in the class.

2. You have a serious family situation and you’re waiting on a phone call.

If you have time, email your instructor before class. If that’s not possible, try to get to class a moment earlier to discreetly mention your situation to your instructor. Take a seat in the back of the room or nearest to the door so that you can quietly excuse yourself if needed.

3. You have back to back classes and don’t have time for lunch, so you need to have a snack to tide you over.

Most vending machine snacks are loud. Opening chip bags and sodas can be very distracting to your fellow classmates. Try bringing your own snacks in zippered plastic bags or containers with twist tops. Use a water bottle to stay hydrated and avoid the echoing “ksst” of soda bottles or cans. Bringing your own snacks and water bottle are also a cost effective way to keep a little something in your stomach. Avoid strong smelling foods as well, as you may not be aware to your classmates’ sensitivity to smells. Always remember to make sure to tidy up before you leave.

4. You somehow always end up next to a “Chatty Cathy”.

There are a few ways to approach this. You could always ask the person or group to refrain from talking during the lecture, but that’s not always easy to do and could make the situation worse. Don’t get me wrong, you should absolutely stand up for yourself! However, take care to consider the possible consequences before proceeding.

My best advice to you is to try to scope out a different seat in the classroom. This can also be tricky because you don’t want to “take someone’s seat”. There typically aren’t assigned seats in college, but imagine how you would feel if you had been sitting in a seat for several weeks that you got comfortable with, only to see someone sitting in it!

If it’s huge distraction, chances are, your instructor has already recognized it. Mentioning it to your instructor may alert him that students are being affected and will take steps to resolve the situation.

Either way, it’s in your best interests to get as far away from that situation as possible – both for your learning experience and you wouldn’t want to be associated with such a classroom distraction.


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