Last week, two students in my classroom were commiserating about the number of detentions they have.  Multiple times per week.  Every week.

I’m nosey, so I butted myself into their conversation and asked a question I knew the answer to: “So, do you think detentions work for you?” After I got the anticipated, “no” response, I asked another question, “What would work?  What would get you to not break rules and policies that end up with you in detention?”

Cleaning up the language a bit and paraphrasing their answer, “Well, if teachers here weren’t such jerks that’d help.”  Whether or not I think some of my colleagues are giant_businessman_watch_man_1600_clr_18803“jerks” isn’t the point – the point is that students have a rational reason to sometimes perceive us as “jerks.”

At the heart of any persisting classroom behavior issue is a student who doesn’t feel respected, heard, or engaged.  Most students only continue to act out when they feel a moral justification to do so.

This isn’t to say that all misbehavior is preventable – only to say that when a digression isn’t handled with a respect mindset, it is more likely to continue. I’m also not saying we pander and turn the keys over, but I do think these guys have a point – sometimes teachers are jerks.

  • Stop the power struggle – Inspire.  Don’t require.
  • Stop escalating.   Be the adult.  Diffuse.  Model appropriate conflict resolution.
  • Stop using punitive grading.  Separate behaviors from learning.
  • Stop “making an example” out of students.  Public shaming isn’t respectful.  Why give a stage and a spotlight?
  • Stop blocking the bathroom.  There is a difference between use and abuse of power.  Going to the bathroom is not a privilege, it is a right.
  • Stop cold calling.  Motivate.  Don’t enervate.
  • Stop enforcing compliance rules.  Let them pull their hood up.  Let them wear the sunglasses.  These don’t interrupt learning.  The power struggle does.
  • Stop putting up obstacles.  Give second chances.  Allow for transgression and correction.
  • Stop doling out cold consequences.   Have a conversation.  Understand the “why.” Hear their perspective.
  • Stop blaming students for being disengaged.  Reach every student, not just the easy students.

I hear someone somewhere reacting to this post with the following:

“When are students going to learn the role of authority in their lives?  Isn’t there value in students learning how to deal with a boss who might be a jerk?  This touchy-feely sanctimonious hokum is making fragile-minded adults – I am not going to be a part it.”

To these and other  like-minded sentiments, I say,

“Being a despot in your classroom only gives students practice fighting despotism.  They might find a boss in their future who is also a jerk, but that should not be now.  Modeling the worst version of leadership does not instill the skills a student needs to act adaptively – it is only creating a survival mentality.  This “hokum” meets students where they are.  It opens the door for all students to learn.  It allows room for kidults to make the mistakes they are going to.  It allows students to know your school is a safe place.  No student should have to endure a bully at the front of the classroom in order to gain their rightful access to an education.  There is no justification.”

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