Teachers misbehaving in ‘class’

When teachers gather for training sessions, some emulate their worst students, other teachers complain.  In Teacher Magazine, Nancy recalls a conference of National Board Certified Teachers; a former governor gave the keynote address.

“Teachers, wearing their NBCT ribbons, talked constantly and loudly through his entire 20-minute speech, even laughing and moving from table to table,” she said. . . .

Nancy remembered thinking, “Why are we whining about policymakers not paying attention to the good ideas of teachers? These teachers, who are supposed to be accomplished and reflective, are proving beyond a shadow of doubt that they have no IDEA how to engage or respect policymakers.”

As to why, Nancy suggested that “teachers have been conditioned to understand that they are the most important person in the room–to talk over kids, to ‘grab the microphone,’ to speak without thinking. It’s the way we work. We’re in charge of the interaction, all day long, so it’s not surprising that we are not silent or intimidated when we become the ‘class.’”

Is the session boring? Courtesy comes first, she advises.

About Joanne


  1. Miller T. Smith says:

    Are we missing the point? How about those policy makers “make” the teacher behave? Why don’t policy makers have good ‘audience management skills.”

    A little tongue in cheek? Maybe…but dead on point. If these adults don’t have the tools to deal with an audience of adults, then why are they policy makers?

    One of the first things we are told as teachers about getting the kids to pay attention and stop misbehaving is to make the content relevant to the students. Maybe the speaker’s content isn’t germane to the teachers.

    Now think about this for a moment. We tell teachers that when students misbehave and don’t pay attention that it was the teacher’s fault. We tell teachers this for 18 year old senior students. We are now telling college professors the same thing for legal adult student’s behavior in college classes.

    Do policy makers expect different behavior from teachers? Why should they considering the line they have been passing on down to us for the last 20 years.

    At my school we treat policy makers the same way. We act like a class of students. If the policy maker is interesting, we pay attention. If they are not, we act up.

    When a boring policy maker starts castigating us for our behavior, we feed him the same line he has fed us: You are not a very good presenter! Don’t yell at us for your failings! You don’t have very good audience management skills! I kid you not.

    As you could guess, policy makers in our county don’t like to talk to us much, and, sadly, they don’t seem to get the point. They want us to be what they say children and adult students can’t. They blame the teacher for bad studnet5 behavior and blame the teacher for behaving badly towards them. The policy makers need to change.

    Give respect to your subordinates and you can expect it back. What the policy makers are getting from teachers is what they have been giving teacher for a very long time.

  2. “We tell teachers that when students misbehave and don’t pay attention that it was the teacher’s fault. We tell teachers this for 18 year old senior students. We are now telling college professors the same thing for legal adult student’s behavior in college classes. Do policy makers expect different behavior from teachers? Why should they considering the line they have been passing on down to us for the last 20 years”

    Good comeback. But who is “we?” Is it really the senior policy makers (governors, US Presidents, etc) who are telling teachers that it is *their own fault* if students don’t pay attention? Or is it the education establishment itself, with its endless desire to be trendy and politically “progressive?”

  3. Miller T. Smith says:

    Both David. The policy makers back the ed estab. “We” should endlessly give them a taste of their own prescription. Notice how they don’t like being held accountable for the dictates they give us?

    Now when we get a good presenter we are with them the entire time. And what is a good presenter? Someone who follows the advice they give us.

  4. Widebody says:

    There is no call to treat a speaker with rudeness and disrespect. Too many people nowadays seem to take their cues from the angry “talking heads” in our media. Why can’t we teachers model civility, as opposed to the attention-grabbing insolence found regularly on MSNBC, CNN, Fox, ESPN, talk radio, etc.?

  5. The situation referenced in Joanne’s post made me remember a conference I was sent to (two people from each department had to go; I was the one who got the short straw) on “teaching efficiency.”

    One of the sessions was on why “lecturing is bad.”

    How was the information delivered?

    In the form of a three-hour lecture. (Facepalm!)

    I will say I was “apparently” respectful (did not fidget or talk) but my brain checked out somewhere about minute 40.

  6. Unless it’s an absolutely riveting subject to the audience, a three hour lecture is torture for anyone…

    The last three hour lecture I remember enjoying? I went to BotCon (the yearly convention for Transformers fans, http://www.unicron.com/ ) in 2005 in Frisco, Texas. One of the selling points for the convention was a presentation about the original (1986) Transformers movie. The presentation was about storylines and characters that got cut out of the script, pre-animated sequences that never made it into the final film, references in the scripts we never saw on screen, etc.

    The point is, that three hour lecture felt like 30 minutes! Not just to me, but to the entire audience. No one moved, and when it was all over, we were almost surprised that as much time had passed as it had.

    So, when was the last time a speech about education policy was riveting to anyone? The presenter would be better off hitting the major points for 30-45 minutes, then telling the audience that they can read the rest in the enclosed pamphlet they were given while they eat lunch. Then with the audience a good day, and let them go!

  7. Robert Wright says:

    My parents were teachers.

    When I was just a tadpole, my mom had a staff party at our house.

    What I will never forget is how loud it was.

    Teachers are used to be being the one talking. They’re used to being the center of attention.

    But, that said, it’s been my experience that “training sessions” are a joke.

    They’re more like torture sessions in which teachers suffer the indignity of being lectured to by someone who uses new vocabulary disguised as new ideas.

    I would love to receive training on how better to teach reading and vocabulary. I’d love to get tips on how to better lead class discussions. I’d love to hear from other teachers on what works and what doesn’t work in their classrooms. In short, I’d love for these “training sessions” to be something other than a tortuous, insulting waste of time.

  8. Margo/Mom says:

    I remember learning that you can’t teach what you don’t know. It would seem that the misbehaving teachers either believe that it is the job of the lecturer (or someone else) to set the tone for decorum, or they simply don’t understand what appropriate behavior is. Or they do understand and are giving in to peer pressure to behave otherwise (or are acting out of some sense of rebellion against their required presence). Several comments here agree with the first.

    From teachers I hear far too frequently that children behave in the ways that are attributed to teachers here because they come from homes that have not taught them the proper behavior. I am not at all clear how one teaches at home what the proper behavior is in a classroom–but there are many who seem to seriously expect that to happen–and expect the culture of home/community to align itself with the culture of school rather than otherwise.

    In my work, I have experienced the ability to build a group culture that expects peers to interact with one another with regard to behavior, understanding that our behavior affects one another. This is something that we are particularly reticent about adopting. There were likely some teachers in the room who either disagreed with the appropriateness of the dominant behavior–or who ernestly wanted to hear the speaker. My guess is that they steamed away in silence. While they would have found it more than appropriate to scold children who exhibited such behavior, speaking to their peers was beyond their comfort zone.

    I believe it is Leonard Bernstein who has a wonderful story about conducting at an afternoon matinee at which a group of senior citizens was misbehaving (opening lunch bags and munching on tuna-fish sandwiches, and then exiting one by one to visit the facilities). He stopped the performance and actually addressed the audience. He used the teacher tactic of announcing that he would wait for the group to get ready and show appropriate behavior. I believe the strategy was appropriate.

    Should the individual teachers have “known better?” I think we all know the answer to that one. The real question is, what should an appropriate response look like and who should have taken responsibility to act on it. I think that the answers to those questions would do a good bit to inform teacher response to student behavior in a classroom.

  9. Tracy W says:

    How about those policy makers “make” the teacher behave? Why don’t policy makers have good ‘audience management skills.”

    Teachers are being paid to be teachers, rather than being obliged to attend school for no pay at all. In every country I can think of the government has decided that students don’t have the right to decide to not get an education. Different situation equals different obligations. (Not to say that policy-makers shouldn’t seek to make their presentations interesting in their own right.)

    Even back in the old days of corporal punishment at school teachers who didn’t pay attention to speeches didn’t get the cane applied.

  10. Roger Sweeny says:

    Miller T. Smith,

    I sympathize. But I have to come down on the side of what my wife and I told each other when we wanted to “get back at” the kids, “Remember, you’re the grown-up.”

    Acting up when some semi-ignorant policy-maker talks at you may be interesting guerilla theater but it probably doesn’t get your point across.

  11. This is really unexcusable, although the comparison between teachers and students is a little facile.

    The real problem with the teachers’ behavior is its lack of professionalism – it is simply not professional to rudely ignore an invited keynote speaker. If you went to a similar gathering of lawyers or doctors at a CLE/CME program, there would be no talking and no wandering around the room. At least from the perspective of the presenter, the audience would be polite and attentive. (There would undoubtedly be some surreptitious reading of extraneous matter, but nothing very obvious.)

    Three hour lectures are, of course, horrible – but this was a 20 minute keynote speech.

    The behavior would be inexcusable no matter who the speaker was, but the fact that he or she was a policy maker (and, I would assume, one with a favorable inclination toward education) makes matters worse, since the next time he is told that teachers are “professionals” and should be treated accordingly…well, he may have some second thoughts.

    Training, presentations by policy makers, and other similar events are not entertainment and should not be treated as such. It’s not a time to engage in payback (he doesn’t listen to us, so we won’t listen to him), nor is it a time to rate the speakers presentation skills (that’s what you do afterwards, over drinks). It’s a time to act friggin’ professional, at least if you aspire to be treated that way.

  12. Miller T. Smith says:

    Hi Roger,

    You have a good point. Some of us have stood up and told the presenter that what they are telling us is a waste of our time and the taxpayer’s money instead of acting out.

    When you have a group of anyone of any age not paying attention to you then one should ask, “Why am I here?” I could tell them that I don’t know why they are in front of us as they have been absolutely useless to us and wasted our time.

    We have told our principal to never waste our time with stupid people and silly activities at meetings or in-service days. When we have a speaker who is on point about something that is meaningful to us, you can here a pin drop and the sound of pencils writing like crazy.

    The last In-service we had was a technology guru who was to teach us how to use a system that we did not have and were not going to get…I kid you not! We were awful. He stopped his presentation and asked us what was going on. We told him we did not have the system and would not be getting it. His jaw hit the floor.

    The Guru turned to the VP present and said,”I am professional IT and I do not appreciate having my time wasted. There are people who need me. You do not need me. This is a waste of money!” We stood and clapped for that man.

    Rule number one for having a well behaved audience: Don’t waste their time! They have lots to do!

  13. Roger Sweeny says:

    Miller T. Smith,

    Wow. Bravo to whoever had the courage to tell the IT guy that you didn’t have the system and weren’t going to get it.

    And bravo to the IT guy for his response.

  14. ricki: I’ve been tortured by that speaker! Holy cow, I nearly lost my mind. One of the reasons I’m a teacher is because I need to move all the time. Do NOT sit me in a chair for hours on end. Yikes. (And no, I don’t make my kids sit in a chair for hours on end either — I always have a part of class when they are up and moving.)

    When I teach PD, I never have a problem with my colleagues being rude to me.

  15. The answers here surprise me. Rudeness is rudeness. You shouldn’t get up and wander around talking while attending a key note address. The idea that anyone would blame rude behavior by a group of adults attending a voluntary 20 minute long meeting on the quality of the speaker seems insane.

    And in terms of bad professional development, it also seems passive aggressive. Either don’t take the course or take the waste of your time up with the appropriate person.

    I agree that the quality of most professional development for teachers is pretty crappy; I suspect more so than that in other fields, but of course I don’t know. This doesn’t justify rudeness or lack of professionalism.

  16. Teachers are generally an awful audience… they are used to being able to ignore rules. You know those teachers skip to the front of the line at lunch? They are the same ones that answer their cell phones during conferences and are loud and rude.

  17. NDC: it isn’t voluntary at all, and there is no choice. We’re docked pay if we don’t show up.

  18. “The policy makers need to change. Give respect to your subordinates and you can expect it back. What the policy makers are getting from teachers is what they have been giving teacher for a very long time.”

    The article wasn’t about policymakers – other than the fact that a FORMER governor was the speaker. It was about teachers, and the fact that some – not all – teachers were disruptive in the class, making other teachers complain about it.

    You turned it around and blamed the policy makers for being boring and basically said you don’t pay attention because they’re telling you things you may not like or agree with. Are all the teachers at your school really as narcissistic, unprofessional and petty as all that? Do a bunch of grown men and women really need someone to “make” them behave? Really, if I were over the school system I would seriously consider cleaning house.

    When someone is speaking – particularly at a conference – and most particularly at a conference you are being paid to attend or are at least being given a meal and/or accommodations – the least you can do is listen respectfully to whoever is speaking. If you have a beef with a policymaker, make an appointment to talk with the person to hash it out. Pick up the phone and, politely, make an appointment.

    I’ll bet a bunch of the rude teachers wouldn’t be so brave if they didn’t have some teacher’s union standing behind them with a club just waiting for some poor schmuck to say something. I’ll also bet if the parents of your students and taxpayers in your district knew who was teaching their kids, they’d pull them out in a heartbeat. Just one more reason for people to vote for school choice.

  19. Most teacher in-service isn’t voluntary. Nor is it useful.

    I don’t cause disruptions because, while it’s never useful to me, there’s always one of my colleagues to whom the ideas (“Listen to the students.” “Give useful feedback through asking them to add concrete examples.” “Teach papers that are relevant to their lives.”) are entirely new. Usually, the same ideas are always new to the same colleague every time they’re presented.

    I don’t pay attention, either. I plan classes and grade papers quietly, and wait ’til I can leave. And if I get caught, I take notes. On how stupid the presenter and his/her ideas are. In Spanish.

  20. Ponderosa says:

    I’ve often seen this kind of rudeness by teachers and it always bothers me.

    I wonder if they’re succumbing to a petty and ugly impulse to inflict on others the rudeness and indignity that they suffer at the hands of their students.

  21. Miller T. Smith says:

    NDC, I am required to be there at that “wonderful’ in-service and have the system waste my time while things that need to be done for the children are not getting done. My admin is lucky that all I am is rude.

  22. Put any group of 100 or more into a meeting and you’re going to have different behaviors. Teachers see it in classrooms of 20-30 all the time. Some people respect the decorum of an event, and some do not. Some people use forethought to recognize that a presentation of 2-3 hours will generally go one of two ways: mind-numbingly dull, or enriching. Some come prepared with a pad and pen to jot down lesson plans or to-do lists if the presentation isn’t giving them anything new, some prefer to stew about the wasted time and act out.

  23. Lots of people have to sit through boring or useless training. As a researcher, we had to sit through the same 1-hour safety presentation every year. The 50-75 faculty/grad students sat politely, doodled on the handouts, or quietly outlined experiments, etc. One year I had to take HIPPAA training because I was part of a hospital system, despite the fact that my organism was single-celled and I never saw a patient.

    There is certainly nothing wrong with telling somebody who is leading a training session that you don’t have the equipment or asking if their instruction is more broadly applicable since you won’t be using their product, but there is no excuse for being rude to people whom you disagree with. In the scientific community, weekly hourly seminars are typical. Some are excellent, some are awful, some involve erroneous conclusions, etc. People still usually manage to be respectful, although they my be pointed in their discussion of mistakes and misconceptions during the Q&A period. Teachers are certainly not alone in sometimes having their time wasted by listening to bad/irrelevant talks!

  24. Hmmm… if doctors make the worst patients, maybe teachers make the worst students?

    I tend to agree that one cannot teach behavior that one cannot model. Respect is not conditional on whether or not the material is interesting and the speaker eloquent, but on one’s own sense of propriety. IOW, I should not just be civil based on the actions of others, but because it is part of my character, regardless of the situation in which I find myself.

    It is alarming to me that those to whom parents entrust their children don’t have the basics of appropriate behavior applied in their own lives.

  25. Roger Sweeny says:

    I’ve often seen this kind of rudeness by teachers and it always bothers me. I wonder if they’re succumbing to a petty and ugly impulse to inflict on others the rudeness and indignity that they suffer at the hands of their students.

    The most useful thing a lot of teachers get out of professional development is asking themselves afterward, “Do my students find my classes as boring and useless as I found that?” And then vowing to do better.

  26. Ponderosa says:

    Good point, Roger.

  27. Folks, if you have to go or you get docked, you’re being paid to be there. Even more reason not to behave badly.

    Yes, it’d be great if the people who decided what you had to sit through did a better job of selecting speakers. It still doesn’t mean you have the right to not only blow off the content the taxpayers are likely paying to have presented, but to distract other people as well.

  28. Of course I have the right to blow off the content. I’m not going to implement bogus crap in my classroom. I’d expect anybody in any profession to carefully weigh the usefulness of what they’re being sold. I don’t have the right to be a distraction, however (and I never am — I know how to quietly look like I’m taking notes while writing recommendation letters, lesson plans, pieces of a poem, etc.).

    Teachers are pretty fierce about their time because it is so very tight during the school year. There’s always 17 more things to do than you can get to — and it is all important.

    That said, I think the fact that we think PD is a dirty word is a big red flag as to why teachers tend to level out in effectiveness after year 5. The post on the success of that Florida school is all about very good differentiation. This is a sophisticated teaching technique that requires mastery of a lot of other pieces before you can do it well; in other words, it is something you need to be taught 5, 8 years into your career. That’s the PD we ALL need — not blowhard speakers.

  29. Robert Wright says:

    Roger for Secretary of Education!

  30. Get your wading boots on:

    One of the first things we are told as teachers about getting the kids to pay attention and stop misbehaving is to make the content relevant to the students. Maybe the speaker’s content isn’t germane to the teachers.

    In other words, the teachers are self-obsessed narcissists who can’t behave like civilized human beings, just like their self-obsessed, narcissistic students, and lack the intellect to grasp something they don’t perceive as “relevant,” just like their students. Unsurprising.

  31. Margo/Mom says:


    And yet, I have heard teachers railing against PD on the topic of differentiation. I find it just a bit frightening that teachers come off as being so resistant to learning. I have heard the same grumblings regardless of content, regardless of format (workshops, professional learning communities, etc) from SOME quarters, typically couched in an attitude that “I am a professional, I already know what I am doing, some clueless somebody told me that I have to be here, etc.” Sometimes I think that teachers just spend too much time with children and adolescents (although, given a choice, I would rather address a room full of children and adolescents).

  32. Lightly Seasoned says:

    Oh, no doubt, Margo. It’s a lot (enormous amounts, actually) of work to overhaul your curriculum and there are always teachers who are resistant to that work. That’s why some districts that do merit pay predicate it on putting PD into practice (and give a choice of PD) by doing action research. And I’m not saying everyone should do differentiation — there are other sophisticated teaching methods that can be improved as we move through our careers. When I first learned to ride a horse it was all about staying on. Now, it is all about perfecting the smallest movements — I’ve been taking lessons for 30 years and will continue for 20 more God willing. I think it is this experience that helps me see teaching in the light of ongoing perfecting.

    There is some truth to us becoming what we teach. Not a lot of adult interaction in my day.

    In my district, we teach each other (with occasional outside speakers). That tends to help since I know the person is making stuff work with my kids in my building — tends to be more useful.

  33. Miller T. Smith says:

    Margo, not resistant to learning…resistant to having our time wasted. THAT is THE issue.

    There have been very few PD in-service days in my school system over the last 19 years that were worth anything at all. I can count them on one hand and I remember them as they were NOT a waste of my time.

    Consider this: We are not initiating the disrespect but rather are returning it to those higher ups who showed us disrespect first. My admin and policy makers drew first blood-not us!

    It is morbidly interesting to see people insist that they should have the privilege of constantly disrespecting teachers but demand respect at all times in return. There is a mental disconnect there that I suggest be healed very quickly.

    From the teachers in my school and those I have known in other schools over the last 19 years I have discovered that you will get from us what you give. Deal?