November 18th, 2008

Student Nags


This may not be the best time of the semester to bring this up: Some students are already getting on your nerves? Nonetheless, I thought you might be interested in a typology that identifies the different ways students nag their professors. Usually we think of nagging as something children do to parents or spouses do to one another, but some researchers think it happens in the classroom. Here are the seven different kinds of “nags” perpetrated by students on their teachers.

Elicit sympathy nag—These are seemingly endless requests for sympathy (and special accommodations) based on a litany of personal problems.

Elicit student support nag—This happens when students get together and collectively raise an issue: “Nobody thinks we should have to do these online citations” (accompanied with head nodding around the classroom).

Demonstrating frustration with the instructor nag—This is usually communicated nonverbally by rolling the eyes or repeated loud sighs.

Strike a deal nag—These are the students who nag about extra credit, want more partial credit, volunteer to do something extra, if the instructor will just give them more points.

Suggest instructor incompetence nag—Generally these nags are thinly veiled challenges to authority and are more often hinted at than stated outright.

Flatter the instructor nag—Some students are just too nice too often. It’s how “flattery” will get you everything.

Barrage the instructor with requests nag—Whether it’s an extension on a paper, more/less multiple-choice questions on the test, having class outside, these student always want something other than what is.

Why do these behaviors qualify as nags? The researchers define a nag as “an exchange in which a person makes persistent, non-aggressive requests which contain the same content to a respondent who fails to comply.” Nagging messages are further characterized by their persuasive elements and continuous nature.

The intent of these student nags is to alter instructor behaviors, to get something changed. In many situations, the underlying issue has to do with power, authority, and control. What is an instructor to do when a student resorts to nagging? or starters, don’t make a habit of responding positively to whatever the student requests. That just sets you up for another round of nagging. If the nags are unsuccessful and the student still persists, there may need to be a conversation during which the instructor gently, constructively points out that there are better ways of getting what you want.

Reference: Dunleavy, K. N., Martin, M. M. Brann, M., Booth-Butterfield, M., Myers, S. A., and Weber, K. (2008). Student nagging behavior in the college classroom. Communication Education, 57 (1), 1-19.

—Maryellen Weimer