Unruly students are everywhere

You think the U.S. has problems with unruly students? I just got back from Turkey. Our guide in Istanbul was a former high school English teacher who said he quit because students are out of control.

Then, on a boat trip, I met a young woman who teaches physics at an Istanbul high school. She said her job is miserable because students are unmotivated and poorly behaved. She said private schools enforce discipline; in public schools, students know there are no consequences for cutting or disrupting class.

Israeli schools demand little of students, complains Nehemia Shtrasler in Haaretz.

Instead of forcing students to behave properly, we allow them to run wild and interfere in class in the name of “students’ rights.” They have turned into customers, and school teachers have become suppliers who are commanded to find favor with their customers.

All teaching is geared to the national tests, writes Shtrasler, and once students finish their exams in the spring, there’s no motivation to teach or learn.

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Comments

  1. I have teachers from Korea observing me and they were extremely impressed that my students would read quietly when asked.

  2. They have turned into customers, and school teachers have become suppliers who are commanded to find favor with their customers

    Sounds like the business “reform” model for schools.

  3. So…how do teachers take back their classrooms and principals there schools?

    When my kids were in elementary school we knew the principals were in charge. Same for one of the middle schools (academic magnet) but the default er zoned school was comletely run by the kids…even the principal’s attempts to run it as a boot camp were not effective…

    So…how do teachers take back their classrooms and principals their schools?

  4. So…how do teachers take back their classrooms and principals there schools?

    When my kids were in elementary school we knew the principals were in charge. Same for one of the middle schools (academic magnet) but the default er zoned school was comletely run by the kids…even the principal’s attempts to run it as a boot camp were not effective…

    So…how do teachers take back their classrooms and principals their schools?

  5. The entire world is apparently raising a generation of the rude and ignorant. We are all well and truly screwed.

  6. I think one key is for the teacher to comport him or herself as a person who DEMANDS and DESERVES cooperation. To do this, I find it really helps if you know your subject inside and out, and truly believe that conveying what you know is of extreme value. Unfortunately, ed schools teach us to discount subject-matter knowledge; instead they turn us into circus masters who attempt to orchestrate complex student- and text-centered (not teacher-centered) activities that, besides being inherently difficult to control, convey the idea that the teacher is just a ring-master of vapid activities, not an august authority on his subject. Contrary to what ed schools tell us, erudition really does command respect, as does a stern demeanor when a student speaks while the teacher is speaking, or evinces other disrespect. This business of complex reward systems and negotiating rules for the classroom, blah, blah, blah –this empowering of students –is garbage. Students need to be DIS-empowered to receive the solid education that will empower them as adults.

  7. Michael E. Lopez says:

    I think ponderosa is on to something: Students-qua-self-interested-agents will have no respect for someone who does not appear to have anything that they want, and students-qua-children will have no respect for someone who does not impose (by force) certain boundaries of decorum.

    Whether or not the latter is possible under the legal regimes that have been coalescing over the last twenty or forty years is another question entirely.

  8. Ponderosa,

    You are correct in that a teacher must exhibit a demeanor that commands respect. A kid talks in my class while I or another student is speaking will suffer consequences (usually lunch detention). They hate lunch detention, and it is very effective. I have very few management problems.
    However, you are incorrect when you write “…they turn us into circus masters who attempt to orchestrate complex student- and text-centered (not teacher-centered) activities that, besides being inherently difficult to control, convey the idea that the teacher is just a ring-master of vapid activities, not an august authority on his subject.” Developing intricate simulations, role plays, demonstrations, and other educational activities engage and interest the students, even those who might not see the value of education (i.e. the at risk students). It also allows students, both those who “want” to learn and the aforementioned disengaged students, to interact with the material in a different manner than just hearing the teacher lecture about it which makes learning more accessible and builds understanding of the information. It is hard to do, but good teachers do it and do it well. Discounting that out of hand shows that you have not really observed teachers who use these types of activities effectively. I suggest you seek them out and learn from them.

  9. Also, the entire “this generation is so awful” complaint is old and tired. People have been saying that about the “younger generation” ever since antiquity. I see wonderful young people who respect and value education, educators, their peers, their families, themselves, their country, and society every day at the public middle school where I have been teaching for 12 years now. I also see some kids who are not so wonderful, of course. Generally, however, they are good kids. The charge that they are totally uncontrollable and rude and won’t work is, simply put, a canard spread by teachers who have no control of their classroom or are looking for an excuse to quite or adults who just want to complain about the youth to comfort themselves over their anguished realization that they are getting old.

  10. Swede, I did not mean to say that all complex activities are worthless (although I find that many of them are not worth the massive effort involved). Some are great, and I do believe in “mixing it up” –not relying exclusively on lecture or book work. But would you disagree that role plays and the like are more challenging to implement than direct instruction, and that the potential for chaos and off-task chatter is much greater? And would you disagree that sometimes a lucid lecture is a much more effective vehicle for teaching a given bit of content than an intricate, two-hour activity? I think ed schools do beginning teachers a disservice in suggesting that all-activities/no lecture teaching is a feasible and desirable model. I think it sets them up for failure. Once you have control of your class, you can cautiously dip your toes in the waters of complex activities. Perhaps this makes me a contemptible hack, but my key to successful activities is, frankly, threatening kids with a dreaded “alternative assignment” (e.g. a 12 paragraph essay on the same material as the activity) if the activity gets out of hand. In ed school they don’t tell you that such cudgels may be necessary.

    I agree that this generation of kids is no worse, really, than any other. However I don’t share your disdain for teachers who struggle and complain about student rudeness. No adult (short of a bona fide sadist) deserves to be mistreated by students. I see very kind and dedicated teachers at my school who get “beat up” (psychologically) by students every day. I think that, collectively, we need to create schools where un-tough but decent teachers can survive.

  11. Ponderosa,

    Reread my post. Nowhere do I state that teachers deserve to be mistreated. That would be ridiculous which is why I did not write that. Sometimes I think posters here and critics of education in general forget what it is like to be a kid. Imagine being talked at for at least four of your six or seven hour long classes each day. Just talk talk talk talk talk talk with with a slight opportunity to ask a question or participate briefly in a discussion. Simply put, adolescent and teenage brains are not developed for that. Heck, most adults avoid situations like that! Kids need that interaction to process information and engage in material. That is what brain based learning is all about, and if it seems undeveloped that is because it is a field in its infancy. Researchers and scientists are discovering new things about how our brains work (in all stages of life) all the time. Frankly, what seems “off task” is often students processing information and ideas in a manner that is not as structured as a direct lecture followed by note taking and then a test, but it is effective none the less. Again, Ponderosa, go observe teachers who do these types of activities well. Talk to them. Learn from them. Take a class about how all of this works. Even if you are not a teacher, it will benefit you as a parent or even “just” an interested observer of education.

  12. You do hint at an important topic, Ponderosa, which is that ed schools do an awful job teaching teachers how do manage classrooms. I got none of that when I was in college, and I paid for it my first year. I am very good at it now, but it took a while to figure it out.

  13. “But would you disagree that role plays and the like are more challenging to implement than direct instruction, and that the potential for chaos and off-task chatter is much greater?”

    One last point, Ponderosa, and then I will shut my yap! Yes, it is more challenging to implement these activities. You can not do them all the time. However, monitoring during the activity and setting it up so that off task behavior is minimized are critical aspects of utilizing these activities. Good teachers know how to do that, and those that don’t know how need to learn. Just because it is hard does not mean that we should not do it, however. Rather, like JFK said about landing on the moon, it is all the more reason to do it.

  14. Kudos to you, Swede, for being able to pull off these acrobatic feats of teaching with aplomb (seriously). But consider for a minute if it’s really feasible to design an entire national schools system premised on the idea that every teacher will be an Olympic-caliber implementer of these tricky methods. For years I felt bad that I wasn’t very good at pulling these things off until I realized a few things: a. a lot of these activities really aren’t that good or any more engaging to kids than a good lecture; b. a good lecture IS engaging (heresy!) –often more so than think-pair-shares, etc; and c. very few teachers that I’ve come across really manage to pull these things off well. I would LOVE to watch colleagues who do this stuff well, but almost none of mine seem to (I have gone to observe a couple who are “good” at this and what I saw was a lot of process and little substance). In California there is an activities-based history curriculum called TCI. Over the past five years, I have tried scores of these activities. I would say that about 1 in 3 are really worth it; I enjoy using these (using the heavy-handed discipline alluded to earlier). But I reject the orthodoxy that these methods are superior to direct instruction –even for middle school kids. My own best middle school teachers were lecturers –Mrs. Sullivan who gave us EXUBERANT lectures about biology and hammered away at the importance of taking good notes. And Mrs. Pfeiffer who just sat at her desk and told us the story of America. And I must say the very worst classes I’ve ever had were those that employed group work, student-presentations and turn-to-your-neighbor-type activities. “Brain based learning” seems to me just warmed-over Deweyism, a century old. There is some merit there, but let’s not treat it as dogma.

  15. I don’t think anybody is proposing “designing a national schools system” based on any method of teaching. That stuff comes out of the ed schools, not curriculum.

    If you are not comfortable with it, then don’t do it. Collaborative work certainly can be overdone, and the good lecture is important. I don’t personally like lecturing very much (don’t worry — I still do quite a bit of it) — but I don’t do “discovery” learning. Work with partners is all guided practice, ie. work with a partner to find 6 figures of speech in this chapter or go research something and present it to the class (with the emphasis on the research and public speaking skills).

    It did take me a few years of bad group work (and yet the kids still learned — I still want to apologize to the students I had my very first year) to figure it out. And some classes just can’t handle it (it is horrible for some kids with autism and ADHD). I think the best teachers know what to use when. As in, yeah, I should NOT have tried that lecture 7th hour Friday as the sky was clearing in time for the evening football game, even though they are behind the other section already. Oh well.

  16. I have wondered about this–how do other countries deal with unruly students. Am interested in learning more!

  17. Swede – exactly who is teaching kids in a way that involves “Imagine being talked at for at least four of your six or seven hour long classes each day. Just talk talk talk talk talk talk with with a slight opportunity to ask a question or participate briefly in a discussion. ”

    I don’t recall that sort of teaching from school, even in the classes I had taught by old traditionalist teachers who were around in the 1960s (we found old school staff photos in the library). Traditional teaching methods tended to be things like “Review of last classes’ homework. Teacher introduces new maths concept and explains it with worked examples on the blackboard. Then assigned problems to be done in class.” Or take chemistry class – a mix of being taught new ideas and doing labs, or in the case of more theoretical issues like learning chemical equations, doing word problems. In Latin class we were expected to do our own translations. Etc.

    I don’t think there’s anything new about the idea that students need to interact with material to learn it. (And brain-based learning? What would non-brain-based learning look like?)

  18. Andrew Bell says:

    I hear lots of teachers lament the _change_ in their students over the years – lack of preparation and such. I hear this from college professors AND first grade teachers. Is it just faulty perception and age talking, or is there something real taking place? Just curious.

  19. “Traditional teaching methods tended to be things like “Review of last classes’ homework. Teacher introduces new maths concept and explains it with worked examples on the blackboard. Then assigned problems to be done in class.” Not a lot of opportunity for students to truly engage in the material in a way that does not involve the teacher being front and center there, Tracy W. Also, brain based learning refers not to the fact that the brain is engaged in some way, but rather that we are teaching in such a way that the brain is engaged as much as possible and that we are teaching in such a way that comports with how the brain actually functions rather than by doings things we have always done them just because that is how we have always done things. Part of having brain based learning requires all modalities of learning/instruction to be utilized. Lecturing and “teacher talk” is just one tactic that we should use, but you would be surprised how many teachers use that pretty much all the time. I know a lot of teachers did it when I was a kid and I hated it. I know a lot of tachers where I work do it all the time and the kids hate it.

    And yes, Andrew, their complaints are a symptom of them getting older. It is how its always been.

  20. Michael E. Lopez says:

    Andrew,

    I rather think it’s something real… though that does not mean it’s the apocalypse. There are definite social forces that are currently at work in (at least American and likely at least Western) society, including:

    * A coarsening of public manners
    * The undermining of informal social authority
    * The supposition that, although it is the role of adults to decide what to teach the young, the young may decide what they ought to learn for themselves while yet immersed in the limits of their inexperience.

    I think these trends are real, and I also think they are either cyclical, or part of the life-death pattern of any particular society organized around urban life.

    Now… here’s something interesting.

    People often and instinctively say in response to complaints about the comportment of youth that “those sorts of complaints have been made for thousands of years.”

    But this does not preclude that the complainers are not right — at least most of the time (presuming, of course, that those who complain most are those who are caught in the rise of one of the social patterns I listed above).

    Here’s my last thought: Rural lives, historically, have led people to strong ethics of labor, self-respect, and achievement. If you screw up, your family starves. Urban environments offer untold riches in comparison, but they also by their very nature tend to erode at the rural ethos.

    Perhaps early in any given civilization’s lifespan, the youth really are better, because the culture HAD TO BE THAT GOOD in order to start building cities and creating the controls and organization necessary for cosmopolitan life. Then the very nature of that life erodes things back down, people return to the dirt for their sustenance, and the cycle begins again.

    I’m not endorsing this… merely speculating.

  21. Michael E. Lopez says:

    I should point out that the main thrust of my post above is not to talk about how our society is dying, but merely to offer a sensible, realistic situation in which the complaints about youth are actually based in reality, and do not deserve to be scoffed at as the knee-jerk refrain of the elderly and soon-to-be.

  22. But Michael, those who hear about a teacher or two who feel that the kids were much better behaved 30 years ago and then state that “kids today are awful!” are the ones making the knee jerk reaction! Let’s take your supposition from above:

    * A coarsening of public manners
    * The undermining of informal social authority
    * The supposition that, although it is the role of adults to decide what to teach the young, the young may decide what they ought to learn for themselves while yet immersed in the limits of their inexperience.

    These are broad statements without any proof whatsoever. There is a coarsening of public manners? What about the days when racial slurs were casually used in conversation? Today if somebody uses a racial slur in public they are rightfully scorned. In the 1950’s (a typical “good old days” reference point), it was commonplace.
    What about when substantial portions of the populace were legally second class citizens (African-Americans and women especially) and the agents of the state would enforce their subservience? How did we start to break away from that type of society? One critical component of that evolution (the suffragettes of the 20’s and the civil rights activists of the 50’s and 60’s) were courageous young people (and older people, of course, but the youth played a massive role and that is who we are focusing on here) who spoke out against and acted to defeat the virulent racism and sexism that they saw around them. So yeah, Michael, I call “BS” on the lament that kids today are worse than ever. It is the same old complaint because people are people and that is the type of thing that people do.

  23. I should clarify that the young people who speak/act out against racism/sexism were/are the youth who reject what their elders and society is trying to “teach” them about race and gender. So in other words, in this situation, it is feature, not a bug, that young people think for themselves.

  24. Michael E. Lopez says:

    Swede,

    First, you’re not responding to my point, which was not that any of the things I said were actually true, but that they presented a plausible scenario in which the standard argument against complaint about youth do not hold up.

    Second, your responses to what wasn’t my point are, well, frankly they’re kinda lame. There isn’t a coarsening of public manners because we don’t use racial slurs anymore? That’s supposed to prove I’m wrong?

    And kids TODAY don’t suck because…. some kids in the 50’s and 60’s were noble political activists?

    THAT’S your argument?

    What the heck are you smoking, is it legal, and if so where can I get some?

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