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Managing Difficult Moments in the Classroom

"Difficult or 'hot' moments can occur when students are experiencing conflicted feelings, which can rise to a point of threatening the teaching and learning environment. For some of us, they are the very stuff of classroom life. For others, these moments can stifle learning." (Warren) The challenge is to manage ourselves and to make these moments opportunities that students can learn from. Consider the following:

  1. Establish norms or ground rules early in the semester which will deter "personal attacks." For more information, see the Teaching Tip entitled Establishing Ground Rules on the First (or Second) Day of Class.
  2. Model being open to multiple perspectives through your feedback, body language, etc.
  3. If a student has made an offensive remark, say something like "Many people think this way. Why do they hold such views? What are their reasons?"
  4. To help students reflect on and bring closure to this experience, ask students to write about the issue either in or out of class. You might even ask them to write from a position they most disagree with.
  5. It might be appropriate to talk privately after class to students who have been the most embroiled in the discussion. Acknowledge their experience and try to help them learn something significant from it so that they keep coming to class with an open mind.
  6. If a student breaks down in class, acknowledge it and ask them if they would like to remain or take a short break. After class, find the student and ask if you can be of assistance. If appropriate, refer them to an LCC counselor.
  7. Don't avoid the issue even if it seems out of context in your course. Avoiding offensive remarks tells the offending student that it is okay, and the other students that they are not safe from it.
  8. If you are unable to resolve the situation in the moment, tell students that this is an important issue and you will return to it later. This gives you time to plan strategies. It also lets students know that you take such situations seriously.


Warren, L. "Managing Hot Moments In The Classroom." Derek Bok Center for Teaching and Learning. Harvard U., 2000. Web. 19 May 2010.

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