The “I hate my students” essay has long been a Chronicle of Higher Education staple, and for obvious reasons. The classroom can be a frustrating place, and sometimes a prof just needs to vent.

The problem with venting in the Chronicle, though, is that you open yourself up to rebuttal.

Meet Ann Hassenpflug.

Hassenpflug is a professor of education, and she doesn’t like it when her students bring their kids to class. Because she doesn’t like it when her students bring their kids to class, she has a “no kids in class” policy in her syllabus, and she gets mad when that policy is violated.

Fair enough. But some of the reasons behind her rule — a child might sit in a student’s regular chair  — seem trivial, while others arise from problems that could be easily dealt with in other ways.

I myself allow students to bring their kids to class as a last resort. Most of my students are women, many of them are moms. Stuff comes up. But yes, kids can be disruptive, so I have rules:

  • Don’t make it a regular thing. A kid in class isn’t an ideal situation.
  • Sit in the back of the room. Even a quiet child can be distracting.
  • If the kid starts acting up, slip out quietly and address the situation.

In addition to those rules, I have a warning: My class is a history class, which means we’re going to be talking about serious, difficult topics on a pretty regular basis. I can’t and won’t alter the content of the course to accommodate a child, and I won’t ask students to censor themselves either. If you choose to bring a kid along, what they hear is on you.

That’s it. That’s what I tell them. And about once a semester a student shows up with a kid in tow, and about ninety percent of the time it’s not a problem at all.

Now, Hassenpflug’s class isn’t my class, and she’s not me. What works for me might not work for her. I’m not saying she should open her doors.

But I will say that it doesn’t really sound like she makes a habit of explaining the reasons for her policy to her students, and that I suspect that decision may be causing some of the problems she’s having.

I’d love it if every one of my students memorized every element of my syllabus, but because I know that that’s never going to happen, I deal. I remind students at the end of class that if they came in late they should see me to get marked present. I mention my office hours several times during the semester, and encourage students to take advantage of them. I announce the date and time of the final exam at the last class session.

And if something is really important to me, I say so, and I say why, and I say it clearly and emphatically. (I’ve got a whole big speech on cheating. The better that speech gets, the less cheating I see.)

In her Chronicle essay, Hassenpflug gives no fewer than eleven reasons she prefers to have her classroom be child-free, but by her own admission she’s never shared any of those reasons with her students. “The students in my graduate education courses are teachers themselves,” she writes. “They should understand why bringing children to an adult classroom is inappropriate.”

Maybe they do, professor, and maybe their “understanding” isn’t the same as yours (mine certainly isn’t). Or maybe they understand that it’s not ideal, but think of it as the least-worst option in certain circumstances. Or maybe they’ve seen other students do it in other classes (or even yours), and they consider it part of the institutional culture of your program. Or maybe they’re just not aware that it’s one of your pet peeves.

I honestly just don’t get it. It’s your classroom. You’re in charge. You set not only the rules, but the tone. If this is such a big deal to you, take a couple minutes to say so, and to say why. The professorial whine about students’ lack of socialization to academic etiquette is ubiquitous these days, but of all the problems besetting our profession this seems like the easiest to fix.

Just talk to your students. Why on earth wouldn’t you?