Dealing with Difficult Situations

Sometimes, students can get upset and/or disruptive. Alternatively, they may come to you with serious problems or seeking advice; these situations can sometimes make you uncomfortable. During these moments it is important to remain calm and work to prevent a situation from escalating.

Some suggestions for handling these types of situations are included below. Additionally, Mason offers a variety of student support resources on campus that may better prepare faculty for dealing with difficult situations with students. In particular, the Office of Student Conduct has a number of resources for faculty, including a some very helpful responses to frequently asked questions about disruptive student behavior in the classroom.

  • Assure students that you care about their well-being and their learning.
  • Ask upset or angry students to come back and talk with you once they have calmed down. You do not have to engage with angry students and you certainly do not want that behavior in the classroom or in front of other students.
  • For students who are in crisis, thank them for reaching out and let them know you will help them by locating and referring them to the appropriate Mason resource.
  • Seek advice if you are not sure how to respond. It is perfectly okay to let a student know that you want to give them the best possible information and that you will get back to them as soon as possible. Your department/program chair, your colleagues, Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS), Office of Student Conduct, and the Stearns Center for Teaching and Learning are all resources you might consult.
  • Be sure to follow university policies. As before, seek advice if you are not sure how to respond.
  • Familiarize yourself with the GMU Honor Code so that you know when you must go to the Honor Committee and what will happen.
  • When dealing with tough situations, be sure to document your communications and efforts. Keeping careful records might prove to be valuable if a situation escalates.
  • Find additional tips for managing confrontations from Tomorrow’s Professor