Friday, September 2, 2011

Firing your difficult students?

Worst Prof Ever is having fun with the prospect of firing your difficult students:

In the last couple of weeks, I’ve heard several freelance developers and designers talk about “firing clients.” At first I was confused; didn’t it go the opposite way? Nope, not in a high-demand industry. If a client is too high-maintenance, or unreasonable, or can’t deal with the professional guidelines you’ve established, you just let them go.  In some fields, the process is even more selective; PR firms, for example, often make you apply for their services.
This is a mind-blowing contrast to the “student consumer” mentality. In a classroom, educators are generally expected to make sure every single “customer” is taken care of.
I am so over that idea. When an acquaintance was at wit’s end trying to deal with a hostile time-suck of a student (my words, not theirs) and I just kept thinking that what this student needed was a stern, Donald-Trump-style “You’re fired!” I mean, come on, this behavior won’t fly in a workplace; why should a classroom be any different?
There’s a great management book called The No Asshole Rule. Its argument is simple: there are some people who are so problematic, they destroy workplace productivity. They must be gotten rid of. And to return to my favorite teaching-as-management analogy, there are some students who are so ridiculously problematic that you need to…what? Fail them? Fire them? Banish them from the classroom? I’d go for the latter, but I suspect this choice wouldn’t go over well with admin.


  1. If you give me a hard time, the next class session will be dedicated to you. That is, I will pass you the Socrates doll and you will experience firsthand the same trauma as Laches, Meno, et al.

  2. When I managed my own law firm, I regularly fired clients. Each month, one or two clients turned out to be so time-consuming that they took up far more than their fair share of my and my staff's time. So they had to go.

  3. I've never had to do it, but I have a policy in my syllabi--which has been ok'ed by both my chair and dean--which says that students who refuse to comply with conduct expectations after a warning can be failed for the course.

    In my current 100 student intro to phil class, I have *required* that every student meet with me for 5 minutes in the first few weeks. Some haven't signed up, so I may have to determine soon whether to "fire" some people...

    But those aren't "difficult" students so much as uncaring or inattentive students. I suppose with difficult students, if there's no positive to be spun out of the challenge, then the best policy is to seek out the backing of your chair to have them removed. WPE may have had experiences with bad admins, but I think sane admins recognize that there are bad apples, and some of the bad things that have happened in the last few years should have it on their radar that having persistent a-holes (or nuts) in classrooms is not only "bad for business" but is also sometimes a sign of a potential student-safety issue.

  4. I miss the days where faculty could withdraw students. Must have been before some idiot started the "Best Practices" of treating students as consumer / customer.


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