Last week my 19-year old daughter Cereta Newton came to work with me today and was in utter dismay at what she saw in my school. She graduated high school just last year so her perspective and voice are relevant and needed in the conversation about what really goes on in our schools.
Seeing the way 8th graders, nearly ninth graders interacted in class today was shocking. Observing their level of respect towards their teacher, each other, and towards themselves really made me take several steps back. Kids think that being nice is enough, that being nice cancels out their disrespectful behaviors and mannerisms, especially towards their educators. When the students are told, “get in a line and walk quietly through the hallway” they seemed unable to adhere to these simple instructions.
At first, I was confused. I thought back on my 8th grade education and experience and remembered how simply talking too loudly in the hallway was unacceptable. I then thought about the environment of my school and how those rules weren’t only known but enforced as well. The teachers, administration, and staff overall were in accord. Students were always being watched and held accountable for their actions.
I’m grateful to say that my home life, the respect that I gave and received, the high standards I was held to and still am held to, also played a role in the way I behaved in school. It affected the respect I had for my teachers, for my peers, and for myself. I came to the realization that not every student has high standards set for them. Not every student has parents rooting for them and guiding them behaviorally. Many of these kids are being raised by influences around them and societal acceptances, not an involved parent or guardian.
It breaks my heart. Teachers who place high value on respect and educational success for each and every student are rare. And even fewer teachers can enforce the importance of respect and educational success if their efforts are not being reinforced in the homes of their students. Teachers cannot raise their students as their kids, though many feel they are. At 14 or 15 years old you are still heavily influenced by your teacher and parents… at least I was.
Many of these students don’t have any real-life, home-life role models. So when they act out or do something that to me might seem obviously disrespectful, I have to take into account that they may very well be ignorant of their own actions.
It’s hard out here for us teachers and building a positive school culture is at the crux of a lot of what’s been shared in this post. It would be nice to be acknowledged in tangible — preferably financial — compensatory ways for the abuse we take while teaching today’s students. Sometimes, “I’m sorry” just isn’t enough, especially after several years of hearing it with little evidence of change. Each year the level of disrespect is increasing. The narrative that teachers can and will accept anything thrown their way is pervasive and must come to a halt. Something has got to change — and fast.