I believe that high school students today will do the right thing when approached by teachers and parents in the right way. I know this might sound self-aggrandizing or possibly even a bit self-righteous, but here’s my rationale: I am in my thirty-second year of teaching in the public schools. I had the usual hardships starting out: kids talking excessively; kids talking back; occasional incidents of cheating; parents calling to complain about my handling of their child; and students whining about my lofty expectations.
Over time (somewhere about my tenth year in the classroom) I learned the grace necessary to work effectively with students. All at once I went from frustrated and feeling like I was completely inept, to noticing a positive difference in the way kids were responding to me. “What was I doing different,” I wondered.
I was still teaching the same material, essentially–English language, literature and writing. Yet, for some strange reason, mine was becoming a popular class and, I, too, was gaining popularity among students 14-17 years old. Naturally, I was skeptical. Then, it dawned on me. I was “expecting” my kids to do the right thing. I was showing them respect for doing the right thing. I was thanking them when they did the right thing. How simple was that? Why had I not thought of it before? The components of my system were so very easy to grasp; I only had a Bachelor’s degree at the time, and I had hit upon something that worked with teens. It seemed like all the problems I heard about and read about just did not apply to me. I tried sharing my workable system with colleagues but handled them poorly, seeming like a student-rights advocate, apparently. So the plan remained mine, as I reaped the benefits. Finally, fifteen years later, I was afforded the opportunity to teach classroom management in a nearby university. Voila!
I was at last getting to pass on something that I knew would work. Seven years later, I am still experiencing positive classroom/positive student responses. What worked when I thought I was conceiving something amazing has done so because respect has been the catalyst to the change. I am not an educational master-mind. I am not a pedagogical philosopher. I just respect kids, expect them to behave, and it works.
If you enjoyed this essay, please consider making a tax-deductible contribution to This I Believe, Inc.