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This advice comes from Dr. John Wood - Professor, Rose State College

Most teachers, through years of trial and error, have to figure out how to handle student complaints professionally in order to keep on a healthy career track. The following points can save you time and energy (and maybe even your job).

  • Get to know your students. You are going to have all types of students, get to know them. When possible, have the student informally speak with you in your office.
  • Try to find common ground with the student, i.e. common interests, background, sports, etc., (when appropriate).
  • Explore whether the student has other problems thus far unarticulated. If other problems are apparent, then make sure you are considerate and understanding. Underlying problems sometimes manifest in complaints against you. If you are effective in dealing with these first three points, you will most likely find success 99% of the time. However, the 1% that goes beyond this point could leave a black mark on your career path if not dealt with correctly.
  • Work to see the student’s side of the issue. When you talk about a complaint with a student, make sure you are calm, cool, and collected. Do not let this meeting get emotional. Keep the conversation on the rational level. Emotional conversations are often uncontrollable. Focus on relevant facts.
  • Keep a record of all the interactions between you and this student: date, time, name of student, and the nature of the complaint.
  • Write it down. Have the student write out their complaint so it is clear. Sometimes this can force the student to think about the complaint in a rational manner. If you have another side of the story, write it out, too.
  • Keep all written and verbal discussions and information confidential.
  • If you still cannot resolve the issue, have your dean or department head work with you as an outside observer to individually give perspective on the complaint and help come up with a game plan in order to deal with the student’s complaint. Give the dean or department head both of the written sides of the story. Make sure to bring all attendance and grade records with you.
  • You may have to have the student meet with you and the department head or dean. Let this dean or faculty head act as a mediator. Fully explore the problem together.
  • If the student still has a complaint, the problem will have to go to the vice president of student life, or another parallel level at the college or university. Make sure all your written evidence is forwarded to the appropriate level. Make sure to talk with this person before having the student meet with him or her. Ask if you can also attend any meetings the student might attend.


About the author: Dr. John Wood has a Ph.D., Environmental Policy and Conflict, a MA, Political Science, and a BS, Journalism and Broadcasting, all from Oklahoma State University. He is currently a professor of Political Science at Rose State College.