Missed homework assignment? Poor test grade? Not understanding the material?
The increasingly common approach is to point to teachers — the scapegoats of student and parents alike. However, this method is too easy and too lazy, and it demonstrates the paradox of respect for the teaching profession but not for the individual teacher. Arguments by students and parents with teachers about grades and behavior foster a negative learning environment — one that could be avoided if we students assumed responsibility for our actions.
In a poll of 44 East teachers, 26 believed the number of confrontations in which a student or parent held the teacher responsible for poor grades or behavior was on the rise since they began teaching (13 had not noticed a difference and 5 believed that number had fallen).
Now, not all teachers feel under-appreciated, just as not all students and parents attack teachers on a weekly basis. In the end, however, these confrontations continue to occur — and they harm all parties involved. When conflict arises, it is harder for teachers to teach and students to learn.
To find a better learning approach, we should turn to Europe. Finland’s students consistently top the charts in science, math and reading scores, a fact which Scholastic Administrator Magazine attributed in part to student respect for teachers. Julie Walker, a Finland educational system researcher, compared the degree of respect for teachers in Finland to that of doctors in the U.S.
Some have argued that American teachers receive a similar degree of respect. The 2011 PDK/Gallup Poll concluded that most American parents regard teaching as a worthwhile profession for their kids. In fact, PDK International Executive Director Bill Brushaw and Gallop Senior Scientist Shane Lopez wrote that, “Not only do Americans understand the need for great teachers, [but] they also trust and support teachers who are in classrooms now.”
However, the poll does not address how students and parents act towards teachers. Respecting the profession does not equate to respecting a teacher in the classroom.
Finland, on the other hand, showed that a classroom devoid of conflict and filled with mutual respect fosters successful learning. Clearly, heated confrontations about homework, tests and grades can be easily prevented, but it takes initiative on our part. Here are three simple steps to creating better relationships with teachers:
1. Actually read the course handouts — knowing late work policies and project deadlines prevents any negative surprises. “What does the syllabus say about that?” is a common question teachers ask students who plead ignorance.
2. Meet with teachers before or after school to settle any disputes. Teachers are more flexible one-on-one than in front of thirty sets of eyes, especially when they are not in the middle of trying to explain how to write an FRQ.
3. Keep a cool head. Tone and body language are just as important as speech, so when a teacher calls you out for rolling your eyes, do not claim, “I didn’t say anything.” Teachers are much more likely to listen to a calm, composed high schooler than a stuck-up teenager with a strong sense of entitlement.
If these steps are way over your head, remember this simple rule: empathy goes a long way. Teachers deal with a lot, after all. With public school budget cuts, they have picked up more classes and more students. A new teacher might be unsure at first how to handle a classroom full of kids, and an experienced teacher might be skeptical of your excuses because he or she has heard the same ones for twenty years. Understanding is the first step to preventing unnecessary confrontations.
But why bother improving your relationship with your teacher? After all, we move on after only one year or even one semester.
We should bother, though, because aside from our parents, teachers are some of the most influential adults in our lives. They affect everything from our political beliefs to our communication skills, and that in of itself should demand respect.
Disrespect from students should not just be “part of the job;” instead, students need to take initiative. Grades are usually based on merit, but our relationships with teachers are based on effort.