When I started teaching junior high students, I found a lot of condolences sent my way. The apparent horrors and evils of teaching junior highers are felt from the stand-up comedic depictions of Axe-coated gremlins to the hordes of open jobs at the middle school level compared to elementary and high school.
Why do we as teachers fear middle school students, though?
The classic answer is that they are unruly, loud, and awkward. Junior high students are seen as preteen nightmares and are therefore expected to act as such— and therein lies the problem. If we expect our students to act like fools then they will surely meet that expectation with flying colors.
As teachers, we are taught that behavior encouraged or discouraged will result in further actions and attitudes, so how are our middle school students behaving in such unruly ways? The answer: elementary and middle school faculty enable students to act this way.
Classroom management is a tricky thing. Being cruel does little to help, but allowing your students the freedom to run rampant isn’t any good either. Unfortunately though, we find the latter in thousands of schools across the country. Teachers today often desire to be liked and remembered years after their students leave, often resulting in letting students do whatever they please as long as they love and admire the teacher. I’ve seen two fifth-grade teachers this year let their students run rampant through the building, intoning, “They’re just kids, it’s fine.” Unfortunately, this has consequences.
First, the students don’t respect the teacher because they know they can walk all over them. No one is really “best friends” with their boss, and students won’t start loving you just because you let them do whatever— the fifth-grade students are currently giving those teachers hell.
Second, other teachers have to deal with the mess you’ve helped to make. From just two weeks ago: a student walked into my room with a bag of chips, ignoring the school-wide rule that there isn’t supposed to be food outside of the cafeteria. “But Mrs. Wilson said I could eat in her room!”
The lowest standard becomes the bar by which all are measured. Letting your students act disrespectfully to you gives them allowance to act in that manner to every other adult in the building. It’s truly gross to watch a 5th-grade student mouth off to a cafeteria worker and just receive a small “No-no” after said student finished calling someone who served him food a “nasty old b***h.”
What could be a valuable teaching opportunity about thankfulness and respect becomes cement to a twisted foundation of social maladies. Furthermore, we as middle school teachers aren’t excited about receiving the group of kids you’re sending our way. They haven’t been taught before, so why should they start now?
Finally, coddling students takes attention away from those who need focused help. It is logistically impossible to attend to four students with Individualized Education Plans (IEPs) that may need some manner of reading or math assistance while I’m busy sending unruly students from my room. It ruins the atmosphere of learning when teachers allow foolishness to occur— bad acting rising to leadership.
When my sixth hour students last year watched others acting poorly in the classroom, they knew time was being taken away from them. The eyerolls and sighs during the constant care of the mouthy and undisciplined students were simply flags of a classroom restricted from learning. Disciplining our students doesn’t beat down children, it gives them structure to rest on and a goal to achieve.
Great discipline in the classroom generates consistency. In a society plagued by horrible home lives, internet-saturation, and misshapen expectations, a constant set of guidelines from a firm yet loving word provides what we all remember in our favorite teachers. I don’t seek to ask teachers that they ignore the difficult situations students come from, nor do I dismiss the real need for understanding in each case; I desire that teachers assist the homes of these students by helping train these students in a functional methodology that sets these young adults up for success. As a track coach, I often set difficult goals and high standards for my students to achieve. My students aren’t terrified of me, on the contrary, I’m able to talk with more students about personal issues because they know I’ll be honest to them and protective of them. They know, because of my standards, I remain a sure rock to lean on in a stormy world.
The result is clear: students love meeting expectations, and discipline is no exception. If we want our students to develop great habits of respect and responsibility while honoring the teachers and parents around them, we’ve got to quit coddling our students.
The views expressed in this article are the opinion of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Lone Conservative staff.