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Handling Hot Moments

A “hot moment” is an unexpected flare-up of tension, emotion, or conflict in the classroom that is often caused by a student comment. Hot moments can shut down productive discussions—and even if the eruption leaves you floundering for words, your students will be looking to you for a response.

What Is a Hot Moment?

Typically hot moments …

  • are unanticipated
  • create tension, discomfort, or conflict
  • stir emotions
  • threaten to interrupt teaching and learning

Experts advise faculty to be prepared to respond to hot moments with immediate action. We offer a few ideas and resources below to help you respond effectively. See The Diverse Classroom to prepare for difficult conversations by becoming familiar with best practices in the welcoming classroom.

Addressing Hot Moments

Many instructors prefer to ignore inappropriate comments, but research suggests that not taking action can have negative consequences for students and faculty-student relationships. Students may …

  • have difficulty in reconnecting with the course material
  • feel resentful or silenced by their teacher’s avoidance
  • experience lower problem-solving abilities and stereotype threat
  • find the classroom climate to be hostile
  • infer that silence is a good response to racist, sexist, classist comments
  • feel that the instructor has sanctioned the inappropriate comments

Instead, consider ways to turn hot moments into learning opportunities.

Anticipating Hot Moments

Consider how you might respond to possible hot moments. It can be reassuring to have a response ready for a time when you are flummoxed by a student’s inappropriate outburst. We present a basic approach below with more details in Examples and Possible Responses to Hot Moments.

General Steps for Responding to Hot Moments:
  1. Take a moment to gather your thoughts. If possible, count to ten and breathe deeply. Use that brief silence to assess the situation and prepare to respond. Some hot moments are more emotional and tension filled than others, and your students’ reactions may help you determine your response.
  2. Acknowledge the student whose comment created the hot moment.
  3. Observe that people in (and out of) the classroom may have other viewpoints.
  4. Assess your students’ interest in pursuing the topic.
  1. Assess your own readiness to discuss the issue right now.
    • If you’d like to continue the discussion right now, try to connect it to your course goals. If students need time to prepare, ask them to freewrite for 5-10 minutes on the topic, or give them time to review a related reading that can build common ground.
    • If you want more time to prepare, schedule the discussion for another time. If possible, link it to an upcoming lesson or reading.
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