Working with a Challenging Student

Throughout your time as a professor, it is possible that situations will arise in which a student becomes difficult or disrupts the learning environment. In some cases, students may become hostile and may even compromise the safety of the classroom and fellow classmates. In these instances, there are several de-escalation techniques you may be able to implement:

  • Appear and speak calmly. Do not smile as this could be received as mockery.
  • Leave extra space between you and the student.
  • Be respectful but firm without getting loud or becoming hostile or aggressive towards them.
  • Empathize with their feelings rather than their behaviors.
  • Answer informational questions they have but not rhetorical ones.
  • Empower them by giving them choices to pick from.

If you feel that a challenging situation is not settling down, escalating further, or believe that you, the student, or their classmates are in danger, call the Cal Poly Police Department at 805-756-2281 immediately. The safety of you and the students always comes first.

Campus Referrals

If you encounter a difficult or challenging student, please offer your support by reviewing the resources listed below and referring them to the following on-campus resources.

805-756-2511 (24/7 Crisis Line)

Offers a variety of confidential support services including therapy, emotional wellbeing workshops and preventative education.


Serves as a resource to help students resolve university-related issues and concerns to help them obtain their degrees. The office ensures student success by facilitating referrals, support and advocacy through nonclinical interventions. It also provides follow-up services in collaboration with other university departments or individuals, community agencies, parents or guardians, and stakeholders in the students’ success. 

Additional Resources

Assisting Emotionally Distressed Students

Dean on Call

Red Folder: Assisting Students in Distress

Verbal De-Escalation Techniques

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