Most of the students that we come into contact with at work are lovely; they are bright, engaged, independent and a pleasure to talk to. The ones that usually stick in the mind are the ones who are in some way challenging or problematic, however. How can we best handle such students?
If you lose your cool in any way, you become less effective and less professional. Arguing or scolding will not solve the difficulty, and showing difficult students that they can push your buttons may only encourage them to continue being difficult. You could try using mindfulness techniques to help you remain calm during these tricky conversations if you find then stressful.
A student who is angry or wishes to make a complaint is not going to be helped by being passed around the houses by people with a “not my problem” attitude. See what you can do to help – even if it is just listening to the student offload their problem and acknowledging that it is an issue. Show them that you take it seriously. If you aren’t the person they need to speak to, take the responsibility of finding out who is the right person and putting the student in touch with them.
There might be a very good reason why the student in front of you is being difficult. It is a good idea to familiarise yourself with your institution’s support services (such as help with academic writing, dyslexia support, chaplaincy, counselling, etc) and have information to hand that you can direct a student to if a challenging situation arises. If you have a lot of student contact, it is also worth seeing if any sort of training for staff is offered by support teams so that you can best help a student if a crisis arises.
Some students make heavy demands on your time or have unreasonable expectations of the level of service they can expect. This can be difficult to manage, especially in small teams where there might be limited staff coverage at some points in the year. If you are aware of such a period coming up (such as during summer holidays or around Christmas), try to advertise it well in advance; posting opening hours and known closures where they can be easily found will help students plan in advance. Use “out of office” auto-responders to inform email correspondents of periods where you are not available or when replies will be delayed. Also make it clear how quickly certain things can be actioned. If you know students are waiting on committee decisions, for example, let them know in advance when they can expect to receive them (e.g. within 10 working days of the meeting). If you set these guidelines, make sure you make every effort stick to them.
Try putting information, guidelines and frequently asked questions online and signpost students to them rather than always giving them the answer directly – helping students to find the information for themselves will be beneficial for the times when you are not immediately available for them.