Academic First Year Experiences

  • What Now? Handling Problem Behaviors in Your Classroom

Handling Problem Behaviors in Your Classroom

Resource page for "What Now?" Handling Problem Behaviors in Your Classroom

About this event

On April 10, 2018, CSUN faculty and staff joined their colleagues to listen to a panel of campus experts discussing ways to address problem behaviors in the classroom. AFYE and CFA-Northridge co-sponsored the event.


The panelists reviewed ways of addressing and understanding problem behaviors in the classroom, ranging from out-of-bounds cell phone use, to inexplicable displays of immaturity or social awkwardness, to shouting matches and other forms of aggressive or inappropriate behavior.

Participants brought donations for the CSUN Food Pantry (see for more information); they also had an opportunity to ask questions.

Handouts and brochures from the event

Department of Police Services:

CSUN Food Pantry:

Disability Resources & Educational Services (DRES):

  • Faculty Guide to Accommodating Students with Disabilities
  • CSU Systemwide Webcast: Service Animals and Emotional Support Service Animals as Accommodations for Students on Campus
    • Wednesday, April 25, 2018
      2:00 P.M.-3:30 P.M
      (Lobby / Phone Line opens 10 minutes prior to live session)
    • Overview: This live webcast is designed to provide clarification to CSU campuses regarding how federal and state disability law apply to the use of service animals on campus. Additionally, the webcast will provide an overview of CSU guidelines, and participants will learn the difference between a service animal and an emotional support service animal. Examples of animals assisting individuals with disabilities will be given to highlight a handler's responsibilities, and provide strategies and suggestions for handling service animals in the classroom.

University Counseling Services:

Notes from the presentations

These are unofficial notes. If you have questions, contact the listed expert(s) for clarification.

Sam Lingrosso explained that his office handles non-emergency issues with student behavior. He recommends that faculty begin with the syllabus and the first day of class to set expectations and policies, paying particular attention to the circumstances of your course and your discipline (Biology labs will have policies that are not sensible for political science classes, for example.) State the facts in your syllabus, even if they seem obvious to you. And build rapport with your students at the start, especially if a student is not following a policy.  For instance, say to the student, "This is your opportunity to [put your cell phone away, close your laptop, etc.], as the syllabus requires." Students will test you. So be ready with your own approach, whether your style is subtle or more confrontational. Be direct, consistent, and non-disruptive. Sam used the example of a cell phone, noting that "cell phones are like cockroaches; act when you see the first one." If a student doesn't put the phone away when you invoke the syllabus policy, utilize the break (in a three-hour class) for a one-on-one. Be direct; enforce your standard; don't ignore the behavior. If the student still says no, you might say, "If you can't put it away, I will have to ask you to leave." You absolutely can require a student to leave your class if the student's behavior is disruptive to teaching/learning. If the student refuses to leave, explain to the student that this is a no-win situation: "My next step is I am supposed to call campus police to remove you but I don't want to do that; I want to go back to teaching and learning." That typically works.  If the student does leave your class (if it gets to that point), you will want to document the confrontation, perhaps in an email to yourself and your department chair--and you will definitely want to let Sam know. Because any student asked to leave a class needs to see Sam before returning to that class.  His goal is to call them in to deal with the student's anger.  In sum: whenever you're in a situation like this, try hard to move gradually: "My next step here is to ask you to leave...."  Sam did note that there may be occasional exceptions to any policy--but they need to be worked out in advance and individually between you and the student.

Maria Elizondo described the Food Pantry as one of the many resources available on campus to support student success.  Sometimes students who seem defiant are in fact hungry and without a place to live. Their performance in your class will definitely be affected by lack of food.  But it is not easy for a student to disclose personal fact about hunger or homelessness; students are often reluctant to ask for help of any kind. If you observe behavior that makes you suspect the student is facing hunger, approach the student gradually: "I've noticed that you _______________. Do you want to talk about it?" Or refer the student to Counseling for conversations. Or post a Food Pantry flyer in your classroom or on Canvas. Or send it to your entire class by email as an announced resource. Include the information in your syllabus as well. Students can get one bag of food per week--and the bag will be matched to the student's reported family size.  The campus-wide effort includes not only the Food Pantry (Laurel Hall, open two days per week) but also the Women's Resource Center (open 5 days per week). Another resource in case of financial emergency is the MataCare Grant.  The bottom line: the Food Pantry helps students graduate. 


Julie Pearce and Anne Eipe offered updates on how University Counseling Services (UCS) handles students who need counseling. According to Julie, appointments can now be scheduled within two weeks. For urgent care, no appointment is needed.  Students can call in or just walk in.  Faculty or staff can call ahead about a student or walk over with the student.  UCS offers a wide variety of groups and workshops to students.  Students can attend several groups if that's what they want. Anne noted that requests for urgent care services have increased in the last year or two. She encourages faculty to utilize UCS as a resource when encountering students in distress.  If you have concerns about a student, please call and talk to the on-call counselor, who will ask you to describe what is going on. If it's after-hours, you can still get help by dialing the main UCS number and pressing option 3 for the crisis line. (Your students can, too.) If it's not a crisis, you may have the opportunity to suggest a referral: "I can see you're having a difficult time. I know a place on campus you can go to help you handle your stress." If you hear a student talk about suicide, you should take it seriously. You are not the therapist, but you can and should call UCS and let them know what is going on. UCS will follow up on calls from and about our students--but you will not hear back from them about the action they take because once a student is in their hands, that student's record is confidential.



Chief Anne Glavin noted that the Department of Police Services (DPS) is not a collection of "security guards." Rather, they are fully sworn officers.  Call DPS for your 911 moments--whenever you are concerned for your safety. Understand that violence is the end result of a usually discernible process--a "violence continuum"-- and that all of the people and programs on today's panel offer opportunities to intervene. People don't just "go postal"; there is a build-up of red-flag signs.  For instance: dysfunction with daily living; or if the person makes you feel afraid. The good news is that faculty and staff do not have to deal with difficult situations alone. When in doubt, just call DPS. The office is open 24/7/365. Do not be afraid you might "bother" them. Pick up the phone. You don't have to call 911 every time; you can call the business office at x2111 or one of the other units listed on the handout (such as the Threat Assessment unit).


Jodi Johnson echoed other panelists by pointing out that like them, Disability Resources & Educational Services (DRES) offers a broad array of support for student success. The bottom line is that a student with a disability has no special dispensation with respect to behavior. The same classroom standards apply to all of your students. Students with a disability do not get a "free pass." You may put an invitation in your syllabus to build rapport by suggesting that students who require accommodation come to office hours or email you to let you know. The DRES office is open M-F from 8 a.m.-5 p.m. and has a counselor available on Saturdays. As faculty, you can call us to talk about any student. 



Audience questions and responses

Q: A student appeared in class with a dog she claimed was a service animal. But the dog was very distracting; and she fed it and gave it water while I was teaching. What can we do in a situation like this?

A: Jodi responded that it is fine for faculty/staff to inquire about a dog (or a miniature horse) as a service animal by asking only the two following questions:

  1.  Is this animal required because of disability?
  2.  What work or task has the animal been trained to perform?

If the answer to question one is "yes" and the answer to question two seems reasonable, you're done. If not, the animal is not allowed to be in buildings on campus. 

Jodi also pointed out that at present only dogs and miniature horses qualify as service animals.

Here is a campus resource regarding guidelines for service animals:

Q: What if we don't know where to turn?

A: Blanca Castañeda (California Faculty Association-Northridge) reminded attendees that they can always give the CFA office a call if a situation comes up and they don't know how to handle it.

Artwork on this page from Wikimedia Commons.