Is my child disrespectful? A teacher rethinks his usual response.

A Fulton teacher sent me this interesting musing, which I tracked to a California high school teacher.

With author Steve Fowler’s permission, I am sharing his essay.

By Steve Fowler

Following a particularly difficult grading period where I had many students fail to turn in assignments, I had the opportunity to consult with the parents of a young man who is “struggling.” By struggling I mean in conflict with himself over the effort he ought to put forth, not with his ability to do the work.

At the conclusion of the parent conference, I was asked by the father if his son had ever been disrespectful. Certainly, a common question one hears so often that rarely is the meaning considered except on the most basic level. I responded, “Johnny wasn’t disrespectful.” This, of course, is true. The student never assaulted or insulted me, had never talked back or even slightly sneered inappropriately in my direction. So Mr. Smith, your son was not disrespectful, his errors and the cause of this meeting lay in the realm of  “lack of effort.”

Last night I reflected back about the conference and this led to a consideration of the nature of respect and disrespect and where the lines of proper student behavior rest. Imagine my horror when I realized paradoxically that it was I who was disrespectful. For I was not wholly honest with Mr. Smith. I lied to him, and answered his question with words that we both knew were the ones he wanted to hear. I gave an answer that would mollify all, parent and student and teacher.  As I reflected on the nature of my answer and the reasons for my disrespect, I understood that the only course of action remaining would be to convert that falsehood into a statement of understanding.

Mr. Smith, while your son’s decorum in my classroom could never be considered disrespectful toward me, unfortunately, in every other sense, it is indeed disrespectful.

Your son is disrespectful to his classmates. His lack of classroom effort displays a disinterest in the purpose of education. By not working up to the best of his ability, he cheats his classmates of an honest intellectual commitment to the materials studied and limits and harms not only his educational aspirations, but theirs.

Your son is disrespectful to his parents and grandparents, to the love and intense effort you have put into raising him. Disrespectful to the thousands of hours devoted to his well-being, to the hard work necessary every single day to provide room and board, clothing, life experiences, spiritual guidance and the myriad of material goods indispensable to growing a successful life in our modern society. This disrespect, this lack of engagement denies his parent their own hopes and dreams, of which he is, in all likelihood, the core.

Your son is disrespectful to his school, for his indifference nullifies efforts of hundreds of students, teachers, administrators and support personnel. Such insolence insults community, state and national leaders and, ultimately, all Americans who endeavor daily with the goal of raising a new generation of respectful American citizens in the tradition of our forebearers who built this great nation.

Your son is disrespectful to future employers or employees. He deprives himself of knowledge, the only commodity of value any individual possesses. We sell our time, but it is our knowledge, our developed skills that determine an individual’s value in the marketplace. There is an old saying, “Knowledge is money.” The intimate connection between this and the future is absolute. To deny one’s self either is folly, painful to all whom your son will ever connect.

Your son is disrespectful to the taxpayers and the many thousands of dollars necessary to build and furnish schools and all the accoutrements and personnel required. Taxpayers honor each child in this nation by the many hours of labor every dollar collected by the state represents. Sweat and contribution of those tax dollars ought not be met by condescension.

All citizens, regardless of age (certainly high school students) should be cognizant of the gift of tax-supported educational opportunities, not as rights alone, but as a precious gift endowed upon them by fellow Americans.

There is an implied and solemn obligation that our young people not waste our precious resources. The burden of a “free” education comes with strings. Those strings are two: being mindful of all that it takes to provide a quality education and to respect that understanding through a demonstration of one action: an honest effort to learn. This is the only thing society requires of students and, if it is not, it ought to be the least expected of them.

–From Maureen Downey, for the AJC Get Schooled blog

65 comments Add your comment

Fred in DeKalb

March 22nd, 2012
5:24 am

God Bless the Teacher!

March 22nd, 2012
6:07 am

This should be required reading for every student and parent!


March 22nd, 2012
6:33 am

Can I frame it and put it on the wall of my classroom?


March 22nd, 2012
6:56 am

I’m going to read this with my son who is a senior. He’s suffering from a major case of senoritis (sp?) but it is time to get his act together and grow up…..or lose the car keys.


March 22nd, 2012
6:57 am

Excellent! I will use the author’s salient points with my children and students today.


March 22nd, 2012
7:00 am

Of course, there is overt disrespect. Every teacher encounters it. But there is also passive disrespect–the disrespect shown by a student with every reason to succeed (supportive parents, comfort, normal brain and body ability, etc) when they neglect to put forth their own effort. That it is disrespectful for the reasons mentioned should be obvious.


March 22nd, 2012
7:02 am

While I agree with the teacher in many respects, I also have to admit that compulsory schooling is a prison of sorts. 6 hours a day of being stuffed into a room with your peers, whether you choose to be their or not. I used to teach and was disgusted by the disrespect I saw but I also acknowledge that forcing students to be there puts the teacher in the untenable position of warden.


March 22nd, 2012
7:14 am

Brook: if you don’t want to be there, I am glad you left. DO NOT send yor children to me. Home school them and see how “easy” learning is. The rest of you are right on target, but I would also include some parentss who want a free baby sitting service and good grades ( for HOPE and college) regardless of what is learned. This article should be required reading for all students and parents.


March 22nd, 2012
7:27 am

Yes there is disrespect in the classroom. They also get it from the parents who have the attitude “my darling (insert name here) would never do what you say they did!”. Elizabeth you are correct.


March 22nd, 2012
7:41 am

brook: sometimes more like “zookeeper”.
Vern: I had a friend reply to a parent making that assertion: So you say I am lying, huh?

johnny too good

March 22nd, 2012
7:45 am

That was a good read, insightful,
I agree with Vern, alot of parents would:
1. refuse to believe how their kids behave
2. blame the teachers
3. justify the child’s actions


March 22nd, 2012
8:04 am

Hello To All DCSS Staff,

We have gone through a lot this school year. A lot of changes are being made. Yet, they don’t seem to be as positive as one would like to think or even believe. Dr. Atkinson is looking at giving us raises however, we must stand up and say we want our money back that has been taken from us. Please note if we get a raise it will be at best 3% or less. We in excess have lost from our pay checks at least 20-30%. If we are given raises instead of our money back we still lose.

Please stand up and fight for our money back as well as a merit raise.

As for children being disrespectful. Most of us have been taught to respect adults however, we as adults tend not to recognize children as being human beings. I think that we should sometimes analyze the difference between disrespectful and just trying to express their feelings.

Proud Teacher

March 22nd, 2012
8:11 am

Yes! This should be required reading. I weary of “open season” on the teachers. Children should be taught how valuable and precious an education is. Instead, the parents, who were probably the same kind of students if they even finished school, reinforce the rude behavior, especially in teacher conferences where the real concern should be on the students. I have chosen to ignore these parents and give my attention to the parents who want to work with me. I’ll never change the attitudes of the whining parents, but I can do something useful by working with those parents who really want their children to have an education. I am not a trainer. I am an educater. There is a huge disparity between the two. I respect all students in my classroom and will continue to offer the best that I can in spite of these unnecessary distractions.

Hey Teacher

March 22nd, 2012
8:27 am

One of the things I’m working on with my own kids is getting them to sit still and listen to adults without getting on some kind of electronic device or being otherwise entertained (church, dinner, a school function). It’s a struggle sometimes — but as a parent, I think it is vital that children know how to sit, listen and at least pretend to be engaged. At my daughter’s elementary school book night, I was astounded at how many kids were on their parent’s I phones during the presentation — that was supposed to be for them! I know I wasn’t always engaged in every activity I ever attended — but I sure knew how to fake it!


March 22nd, 2012
8:38 am

Left out of the musing are the two most important entities to whom he shows the greatest disrespect: his Creator and himself. If he is right with those two, the rest will follow.


March 22nd, 2012
8:39 am

From the first grade to my last year of college, I never heard anyone say anything about being “disrespectful” or being “disrespected”. I could be wrong, but this seems to have started out being a black thing and is still heard far more among blacks than any other group. Maybe if black students and others would concentrate more on studying and being good citizens and less on being super-alert about any possible “disrespect”, we would all be better off.

Proud Teacher

March 22nd, 2012
8:46 am

Carlosgvv, you obviously do not teach. This new trend of disrepect of teachers does not have a color code. It comes from all races, creeds, and religions. Please do not make this a black/white issue for there is nothing black or white about any of this travesty in American education.

Happy Kine and The Mirth Makers

March 22nd, 2012
9:07 am

Disrepect in the class room starts with disrespect in the home.

Then again this term “disrepect” is tossed around like a can of politically correct “early peas” and has lost all meaning/relevance.

Or is “dissin” more appropriate…


March 22nd, 2012
9:14 am

Angela: Adults should be respected BECAUSE they are adults. CHILDREN need to be taught that respect for all adults ( unless they are physically abusive) is mandatory. I do “respect” my students as human beings; however, students’ attitudes ( and also parents) attitudes are that correcting a student is emotional “abuse” if I say anything but ‘Now, Johnny, don’t do that” in a sweet, nonconfrontational tone. Students must EARN respect by doing their work, behaving in my classroom, by accepting correction, and by changing the behavior. I respect my students’ right to a safe classroom in which they can freely ask APPROPRIATE questions and do their best to learn. However, they are NOT adults, and need to learn that adults should automatically command respect and have already earned that respect because of their age, life experience, and job qualifications. You do not automaticaly command that respect as a CHILD. CHILDREN should understand that submission to adult authority is part of life and correcting a child does not mean that the child is not respected as a person.

William Casey

March 22nd, 2012
9:21 am

This essay is insightful with a refreshing slant. Part of what passes for “disrespect for teachers” is actually “disrespect for learning in general.” I always felt that it was part of my job as a teacher to instruct my students to respect my subject….. history….. AND the process of learning. Our “Founding Fathers” believed that an educated citizenry was THE key for success for the system of government and society they hoped to create. Now, it seems, that the only “learning” that is respected is that which enriches the individual financially. One only has to check out the last couple of centuries of the Roman Empire to see how well that theory worked out.

William Casey

March 22nd, 2012
9:23 am

@Elizabeth: Unfortunately, I know a lot of adults who have not earned respect. Respect must be EARNED.


March 22nd, 2012
9:24 am

Proud Teacher

Either you didn’t bother to read my post very carefully or you have a problem with reading comprehension. I said it seems to have STARTED out as a black thing. How did you get to be a teacher?


March 22nd, 2012
9:24 am

i recall a student receiving iss because he was disrespectful to the teacher. after hearing what happened, the teacher did not like how he responded to her question with an exasperated “ok”. he didnt yell it. he didnt curse. without prompt the teacher discussed the incident during lunch and stated that “i just cant stand disrespectful kids who talk back.” after further prodding she admitted to asking a question and his response was the word okay, but “you know they just have to be trained because they dont get it at home.” glad she doesnt teach anymore.

Ram Teacher

March 22nd, 2012
9:26 am

I am a high school teacher and each year on the first day as we discuss classroom expectations, I make it simple for the students. I tell them if they understand the word “respect,” then all of the rules take care of themselves. First, if they RESPECT THEMSELVES, they will come to school each day ready to learn. They will also not do drugs or drink alcohol and get plenty of rest. Next, if they RESPECT OTHERS (including teachers), they will not disrupt class which interfers with others getting their education or get into fights harming other students. Finally, if they will RESPECT OTHER PEOPLE’S PROPERTY, they will not steal or destroy items or property that doesn’t belong to them. If they will understand those three aspects of respect, all other rules are not necessary.


March 22nd, 2012
9:32 am


ive taught every type of student across socio-economic, racial, cultural, and ethnic backgrounds and ALL students are disrespectful in some manner according to our own perceptions. what may be disrespectful to some is merely accepted behavior by others. the terminology or direction did not START out as a black thing. maybe because you lived in a bubble for those years, you were unable to realize what is disrespectful or not. with your kind of stereotypical bigotry,i hope and pray you never were, are, or will be a teacher. with that kind of bias, it should come as no surprise that young men with hoodies and skittles are killed.

Proud Teacher

March 22nd, 2012
9:36 am

Well said, WAR! Thank you for openly recognizing bigotry. That attitude needs to retire.

Colonel Jack

March 22nd, 2012
9:37 am

On the first day of school, I instruct my students that they are to use the word “Sir” to me. I’m an adult, a teacher, and I have earned it. I will show them all the respect that they deserve, and all that they earn … and they do not have to respect me as an individual until I earn it from them. But they DO have to respect the fact that I’m the teacher, the adult in the room, and that’s non-negotiable.


March 22nd, 2012
10:11 am

Enter your comments here


March 22nd, 2012
10:26 am

The problem with disrespect came when indulgent parents stopped giving “character building pats” on the bottoms of their children and stopped saying “no” to every request. Then these same indulgent parents started telling educators they cannot tell these spoiled brats no or doing anything to discipline them.

Ron F.

March 22nd, 2012
10:58 am

I received this last week in an e-mail and have already shown it to several students. I like it because it makes kids think about who they’re really disrespecting. It’s not just the teacher, and we see plenty of it, it’s the parents and the generations of people who have worked to give them the right to an education. I’ll be using it early in the year next year. I give kids simple rules and talk about respect being a two-way street. Sometimes all I have to do is look at a kid and ask “is this a one way street today?” That proves to be a good way to get their attention without confronting them.


March 22nd, 2012
10:58 am

I can agree with some of the points from the author. I cannot agree with the concept that the student is being disrespectful to “future employers or employees”.

I have to state, I don’t fully understand the meaning of “disrespectful” in this context. I feel that the author uses “disrespectful” with a meaning of actively choosing to fail to perform an expected duty/task. If that is the case, I cannot agree that the student is being disrespectful to future employers or employees. If there is a different meaning in this context, please explain it to me.

The student has not (to my understanding) made a promise to a company to appear at a certain time in the future with a certain set of skills/abilities ready to receive a specific job/task from the company. The student hasn’t promised their friends/neighbors that they will open a factory in the future and hire people to jobs making X or performing Y. The student hasn’t promised to appear with managerial ability or the ability to be an accountant. Because there is no expectation of what the student will study/learn/retain as working knowledge, how is a student failing to do a homework assignment ‘disrespectful’?

If a generic student leaving school and not possessing particular knowledge required for a particular employer is disrespectful, then EVERYONE is disrespectful. Because, I am sure that no one has the skill set/knowledge for every possible job. No person can be qualified to do everything the moment the graduate from school. No one says that because Michael Jordan didn’t go to med school, he disprespected hospitals that would have hired him as a surgeon.

When I chose to be an engineer, I also chose that I wouldn’t know the things I need to know to be a doctor/lawyer/teacher/plumber/long haul truck driver/etc. I cannot believe that choosing my own course in life (my pursuit of happiness if you will) means that I have disrespected people who had no expectation of what I would become.

I can agree that a student failing to do their homework is a manner of disrespect towards their teacher and their opportunity for getting an education. But I cannot agree that it is disrespectful to a “future employer or employee”.


March 22nd, 2012
11:00 am


well said

just saying @carlosgov

March 22nd, 2012
11:07 am

“…and is still heard far more among blacks than any other group. Maybe if black students and others would concentrate more on studying and being good citizens and less on being super-alert about any possible “disrespect”, we would all be better off.”

If you re-read your comments, you actually state (whether or not you intentionally mean it), that disrespect is a cry currently chanted by African American students.

No offense, but maybe you should consider taking a writing class, and possibly revisit the definition of “reading comprehension” that you coolly accused Proud Teacher of not understanding. Thanks.


March 22nd, 2012
11:19 am

@ Angela – Adults should begin with respect but they must act in a way to retain that respect.

I send my children to school with the understanding that they should respect their teachers and administrators. I have also stated that they don’t have to like all of these people but they must be polite. This philosophy also applies to fellow students. They are not allowed to be disruptive because they are cheating all of the students in the class. And there is the understanding that there will be consequences if their behavior doesn’t follow my rules.

Some of you on this blog may not wish to hear this but…Part of the loss of respect is due to teachers whining to the students about how overworked they are; how the administration does (whatever the teacher objects to); or sharing problems from their personal lives in an inappropriate manner (TMI!). Loss of respect also happens when the students observe teachers enforcing the rules in a biased way, i.e. lowering the boom on students that the teacher doesn’t like while letting their favorites’ behavior slide. I have also observed many instances where teachers are disrespectful of their students – in their tone of voice (that’s one of the big adult pet peeves, isn’t it?), in their lack of preparation, and in their lack of effort in teaching the subject matter.

My children have teachers for whom they have great respect. These are the teachers that are enthusiastic about imparting knowledge, respectful toward their students, and innovative. There are also teachers for whom my children have nothing but disdain. These are the lazy, patronizing, burnt-out teachers. In my opinion, teachers in this last group need to find a new career.

I have also emphasized that, sometimes, discretion is the better part of valor :) And when asked why a teacher or policeman or someone else in authority is able to get away with (whatever the behavior is, such as being rude to a student or speeding), I have to respond that, as a person in authority, they are going to get the benefit of the doubt. And children are in many cases held to a higher standard of behavior than adults (go figure!).

In our society, there is both a lack of tolerance for some of the actions of children and an overly tolerant attitude toward other behaviors in our children. I think these conflicting attitudes are confusing, frustrating, and hurtful. I also think that inconsistencies add to the lessening of respect toward those in authority at every level.

Warrior Woman

March 22nd, 2012
11:52 am

@Elizabeth – Adults have no more inherent right to respect than children. If you think students have to earn respect, rather than being granted respect until proven unworthy of respect, then you should expect to have to earn respect as well.

Colonel Jack has a far more appropriate approach.

Dr. John Trotter

March 22nd, 2012
12:01 pm

You cannot have good learning conditions until you first have good teaching conditions. The educrats can never get around this inexorable law. The longer that they ignore this law, the worse public education becomes.


March 22nd, 2012
12:41 pm

I recenlty substituted for an English class in a Eastside middle school. The teacher there prior to her departure stated” My little Darlings areallwonderful. I pointed out they are yound adults and not little darlings and should be treated as such. In 2nd period 4 of 30 students decided to not do the 3 activities assigned by their teacher and proceeded to talk loudly and to bother other students engaged. One group requested work in the halls to avoid the non workers and I allowed them this request. The leader of the female group ran to door and shouted expletives to these students. Upon returning the gang of 4 girls now decided to berate the returning students. I got between the girl when she tried to physically threaten the male boy on the group that resisted their comments to “you dont have to do what the substitute says.” I decided to use emergency button and a Vp came down and said would talk to the gilrs. As a final act of defiance they threw down the 3 days assignment their teacher had indicated due by the coming Friday and left. Theri direspect was self evident. A young female in a later class having heard about it also told me many students disrepect many of their teacher who talk louldy in halls carry on loud conversations about personal issues ,and completely embarrass themselves in the students eyes.

I agree disrespect is rampant and directed towards both parents teacher and susbstitute teachers and in turn from adults (supposedly ) in charge of teaching some of our students.

another comment

March 22nd, 2012
12:55 pm

Angela, you are showing why the general public does not have much respect for teachers right now. While you acknowledge Dr. Atkinson has done alot, and has alot of work ahead. You state that a 3% of less raise is not acceptable in one year, you want all 20-30% you claim to have lost back in one year. I an educated parent read your post and come to a conclusion that someone that selfish and ignorant of the budget shortfalls that still exist. The tax base is way off in Dekalb and other counties what is 5 years ago. So unless you think that politicans and those directly appointed by them are ready to commit political suicide and give out 20-30% raises you are nuts. Fayette County one of the better School Systems in the area just announced that they are going to have to lay-off 70 teachers. I am sure those 70 will take your 3% raise.

Maybe you Angela and those like you do need to quit. I have not had a raise in several years. Because the President I bet you voted for, decided he would just freeze my pay, for two years. All Political.


March 22nd, 2012
1:07 pm

Brook: It’s there – not their. Maybe a little more time being respectful to your language arts teacher would have paid off. Please do not attempt to judge where you have not walked.


March 22nd, 2012
1:20 pm

The last words I say to my 6 year old as she gets out of the car are… “Work Hard Today”. I hope she takes from that a sense of respect for why she is there. I teach her that school is not always easy, it’s not always fun, but if you respect yourself, you will work hard. I also remind my 4 year old daily as the teacher gets him out of the car at his preschool drop off to… “Use your good Manners and be respectful” To this day, neither one of my kids has ever even gotten a time out/red mark at school. I hope and pray my daily “motto” reminders will stick with them when they are teenagers.

As for me personally, the teachers I respected most were the ones who engaged me the most and did not play favorites.


March 22nd, 2012
4:50 pm

A student a few years back definitely crossed this “disrespect” line. I made the mistake of calling home and leaving a message. In my message, I told his father that the student hadn’t been using time in the computer lab to complete research; instead he was playing games every time I made it over to his computer.

Boy was I in for a ride. You see, what I didn’t realize at the time was, this student’s disrespect was my fault. I hadn’t provided the father with a copy of the assignments and the due dates. Our school had an online system called the internet whereby I could place my assignments online for students to access at home. For whatever reason, my student’s father couldn’t access those files. Nor could he be bothered to get the assignment packet from his son. Although I provided a copy through the email, Mr. Dad still “couldn’t open it”. I suppose there are myriad issues with document formats not being compatible.

After my student missed deadline after deadline, the final draft of the research paper was due. He did not hand in a single shred of written information. He had an outline, research, rough draft, and a few more revised versions. I know because I sat next to him and made him write it.

I made the mistake of calling home again. This time Mr. Dad answered! He was furious with me for not supporting his son. I had, out of my malicious nature, acted to hinder and sabotage his son’s essay. He hung up.

A day later, I was notified by my principal that we would be having a meeting with the father, son, their lawyer, the county lawyer, my administrator, and me.

Thank God I documented every contact! As it turns out, Mr. Dad was unable to convince even his own lawyer that I had not provided adequate support for his son. How luck am I?


March 22nd, 2012
6:20 pm

The only thing Mr. Fowler’s article did not address was why? Did he ever ask the student and parents why the son was not doing his work? Was the Dad asking if the son was disrespectful to the teacher because he thinks disrespect is punishable and simply not doing work is not? Did the teacher give the easy answer because he was afraid of what might happen if he answered yes? What might happen to him, or what might happen to the student? Many teachers take the easy way out with questions because they don’t know what will happen at home after the conference. A student’s lack of interest can be due to many things, learning disability (even temporary ones sometimes occur after illness), another student seated behind tapping a pencil constantly, something bad happening at home or at school. This article addresses none of that and leaves us to assume the student was just being lazy. While I know that lazy students like that certainly exist, they are human beings and wouldn’t it be worth it to try and find out why?

I love teaching. I hate what it is becoming...

March 22nd, 2012
6:45 pm

@Soccermom “Some of you on this blog may not wish to hear this but…Part of the loss of respect is due to teachers whining to the students about how overworked they are; how the administration does …etc.”

Soccermom… you may be right about “some” disrespect, but a lot of teachers who students profess to “love” are also subject to disrespect. Not all disrespect is blatantly abusive. I think some children simply have not been taught what is appropriate when interacting with adults. They do not understand that what they see on TV, where some smart mouth kid makes a negative or disparaging comment and gets a bunch of laughs, is not how it really should work.

I should not have to listen to, “Are you serious?” And “Get real!” when I asked young children to take out a text book. I should not get an, “Ah, man! No way!” when I assign a homework assignment. I should not be a “But that’s not fair! You are soooo pushing my limits!” argument when a student fails to bring a homework assignment into school and has to redo it during recess. “Seriously, dude?” is not an appropriate response to a request for someone to lower their voice in the hallway.

Too many of my students do not seem to have any understanding that there should be a difference in how one addresses and adult, and how one addresses one’s pals. I think it stems in part, from too many parents trying to be “buds” and not parents. These children seem genuinely shocked when I tell them I find such replies rude and disrespectful. Maybe I am “old school” (and if so, that’s fine with me because what I see as the “modern” idea of adult-child interaction is alarming) but I was raised to treat others with respect UNTIL they proved themselves unworthy. I was taught that there was a difference between how I should respond to a friend verses to an adult authority figure. And I was taught that if my teacher asked me to do something I was to do it (within reason) without any disparaging, or overly dramatic commentary.

Ron F.

March 22nd, 2012
7:58 pm

“Too many of my students do not seem to have any understanding that there should be a difference in how one addresses and adult, and how one addresses one’s pals.”

I’ve lamented that myself, and here’s what I’ve learned. The kids I teach now are vastly different from previous generations. This is the “point and click” generation and they’ve been reared on Jerry Springer and microwave everything. They seek instant gratification because they can. They don’t all have the social adaptation skills we’re used to- think about what they see around them. The trick is to diffuse a situation instead of giving in to the frustration and desire to snap back. When they suck their teeth or make a snippy comment, I ignore a lot of it. If it goes on, I might have to deal with the kid one-on-one. I do so quietly, privately, and I never approach it with a superior attitude. I ask them why they’re doing it, which usually elicits a shrug or a mumble of “I don’t know.” It’s usually because they’re scoring points with their peers. If I get angry or get into a verbal battle with them, then they win in the eyes of their friends. Usually if I tell them, “look, I care about you and I care about you learning something. If this is too hard, you can tell me and I’ll help you. If you’re mad at somebody, I understand. I want you to be successful and I don’t want to be mad at you. How would you feel if you needed something and all I did was suck my teeth or roll my eyes?” (and I demonstrate with a lot of dramatic effect). Most times, that gets a laugh out of them and the ice is broken. Then I give them a choice. I tell them they can take a bathroom break and get themselves together and come back, or they can be mad and go take a break in the office- and I quietly, without judgment or anger, accept the choice. I remind them if they choose the office, that means I have to call home and tell somebody how much I want them to be successful and how happy I am to teach them but they just don’t seem to want me to do that. You’d be surprised how many parents instantly back you up when you approach them with a positive first. Instead of hitting them with the laundry list of wrongs, I point out a positive and then give them the reasons we can’t get that because of the kid’s choices. I can count on one hand the times a parent hasn’t backed me up, and those are the kids every teacher is struggling to teach. I write very few discipline referrals, and even the hardest of my kids learns pretty quickly that I’ll try to help them and work with them if they choose to come back in and change. I’ve had a lot of them tell me that I was the only teacher that cared about them. I know that’s not true, but that’s how they feel sometimes.

I’ve also noticed that a lot, probably most, of my kids don’t do well with large tasks. I spend a lot of time helping them break things down and working on pieces. Sometimes it’s nothing more than helping them write the first sentence or read the first page of a chapter. If I take a minute to do that and then set a reasonable goal for them to reach, they work a lot harder and I’m able to give them quicker feedback (remember the instant feedback they’re used to). And I have kids who I know from the start are going to need more time than the rest to finish something. I find a way to make that work and even if I shouldn’t have to sit with them to get it finished, I do and they will finish eventually. It takes flexibility and a willingness to give the successful kids a challenge or an enrichment activity so I can take the time to help the slower, sometimes lazy ones. They figure out pretty soon that I’m not going to let them quit, and most end up trying a little harder. Some just don’t do it, and I have to let them fail. But I never belittle them or blast the parents about it. I just document what I’ve done and stay in touch with the parents. I’ve yet to have one try to accuse me of anything, and I have worked with some of the worst kids in the building (rural school with almost 70% poverty).

Hey Teacher

March 22nd, 2012
8:11 pm

@ I love teaching — I just had this exact same conversation with a parent this afternoon — I may have to steal your line sometime “overly dramatic commentary” — love it!

Old Physics Teacher

March 22nd, 2012
10:58 pm

Ron F,

I hear you and understand you, and a lot of the time I do exactly what you do. The main difference is, I DON’T EVER CALL HOME! It is a complete waste of time. Over the years I’ve noticed common courtesy has essentially disappeared in society. Now, the cause? Legion, but it is not something we – in schools – can address. It simply isn’t our job. And the job they pay us so pitifully little for, is tough enough as it is without making it more so. Fight the battles you can win.

The end result of this disconnect is that I’ve noticed – from watching the interaction between the child and a parent – that the child inevitably treats me better than their parents. They are genuinely surprised when a teacher writes them up for their attitude or their actions.

As far as problem students – especially males – I have very little problems with them. I came up from the school of hard knocks. I worked construction and their swear words were part of my every-day lexicon. One time many years ago (when I first started teaching) another teacher heard me discussing – in the hall – in private – a particular student’s misdeeds and his necessary corrections. After I sent the student back in the classroom to complete the assignment, the other teacher said, “Are you going to let him get away with those type of words?” Unfortunately I had to respond, “Really? What did he say?”

In many cases what we see as disrespect is the children’s frustration with education in general. The elementary school, and the middle school, teachers tell the kids if they don’t learn the material, they’ll be held back. Then the “administrators” pass the kids on anyway. Well… we’ve just taught them that we don’t really mean what we say. Our threats are powerless. Now they get to the high school. They can’t even read on the 5th grade level or do 5th grade math. How do you expect them to succeed? So one of two things happen: (A) the kids get sullen and argumentative, and to paraphrase Shakespeare “If I can’t prove a student, I am determined to prove a villain.” or (B) sit in a seat, pull in the surrounding volume of space and disappear. I don’t know what to do with them. It’s not in my skill-set to teach 6th grade subjects. This is where WE – educational professionals – have failed them. The individuals who decided that self-esteem was more important that success in learning new information have caused most of the problems we’re seeing in education. Whoever put these guys in charge need to be held accountable for their gross misconduct.

Dekalbite@another comment

March 22nd, 2012
11:24 pm

“You state that a 3% of less raise is not acceptable in one year, you want all 20-30% you claim to have lost back in one year.”

Angela is not as off base as you would say. The recent Compensation Audit that found over 330+ highly paid Central office employees should be eliminated also found that teachers in DeKalb are the most underpaid employee group by 20% to 30%. The support personnel portion of the audit has not been released yet. Please consider that DeKalb has 8,500 admin and support personnel and only 6,500 teachers. Admin and support personnel grew by leaps and bounds under Crawford Lewis and teachers’ pay fares poorly compared to many of them who only require a GED as an education level. Many of these highly paid admin and support personnel are “friends and family” of the Board members.

Back in 2004 a Compensation audit showed that 2,500 DCSS non teaching personnel were being overpaid by around $15,000,000 and that was directly before Lewis took over. He buried that audit and made no personnel or salary changes. In fact he added many more non teaching personnel. Just considering the $15,000,000 a year in saving in non teaching salaries over 7 years equates to over $100,000,000 million in saving we SHOULD have realized. The teaching salaries have gotten worse while the non teaching salaries have not only not been rightsized, they have actually grown.

As an example, DeKalb pays $4,500,000 for 79 Parent Involvement personnel who only require an Associate degree (2 years of college) and no certification (not even paraprofessional, and almost all have no certification), yet they are paid an average of $57,000 a year in salary and benefits. By contrast, Clayton Schools $1,700,000 for 45 Parent Involvement personnel who are all certified paraprofessionals and make an average of $38,000 a year in salary and benefits. A former BOE member who just lost her last election has a daughter employed as a DeKalb Parent Involvement Coordinator making $71,000 in salary and benefits with less than 8 years in DeKalb (in comparison, a teacher with a PhD in Physics and 8 years experience makes $66,000 in salary and benefits).

Another example is the Security group. The Compensation audit recommends that they be reduced by 95 positions. Currently, DeKalb spends close to $11,000,000 for 204 Security personnel (and this is only for middle and high schools – elementary schools are “on their own”). The Security personnel average $55,000 a year in salary and benefits. By contrast, Gwinnett spends $2,800,000 for 48 Security personnel, Clayton spends $1,000,000 for 180 Security personnel and $5,000,000 for 282 Security personnel. The DeKalb’s Board chairman has a son who is in Security along with 4 other of his relatives who work for the school system (none of them teachers).

Fernbank Science Center employs only 29 teachers and 30+ admin and support personnel. This cost center consumes around $7,000,000 a year of our science budget while science scores have fallen to an historic low (less than 50% of DeKalb 8th graders understand even the most basic science concepts). Meanwhile, the teachers in the schools who teach science every day in class sizes of 35+ only had $55,000 to obtain all of their equipment and supplies – that works out to 55 cents per child for the entire year for science labs. Most of the science supplies are being bought by the teachers out of their own pockets.

These are just a few examples of the waste that plagues our school system. There are many more.

To see the Compensation audit for yourself, click on the link below (BTW – the DeKalb Schools System did not post this audit that taxpayers paid for on their website. Rather, the blog DeKalb School Watch Two used a Freedom of Information request to get it):

If you want to see the teacher salary comparisons, look on page 95. You will see where Angela got the 20% to 30% figure.

DeKalb County is behind in teacher compensation – on the low side of salary in metro Atlanta and in addition DeKalb is not paying into Social Security for teachers. There is a battle going on right now as Dr. Atkinson tries to dismantle the overpriced “friends and family” bureaucracy that Lewis installed. Every citizen of DeKalb needs to support Dr. Atkinson efforts – especially since the Board chairman apparently is not happy with her replacing the administrators who have utterly failed our students.

It is absolutely critical that Dr. Atkinson posts the salary schedules of ALL personnel on the DCSS website like EVERY other metro system. Currently, only the teacher salary schedule which covers 6,500 employees is posted. The salary schedules for the other 8,500 non teaching personnel are not posted. Too many times, salary schedules were created within Human Resources and non teaching personnel have been moved to those schedules in order to receive hefty raises while teacher compensation has been going backwards.


March 22nd, 2012
11:44 pm

@I love teaching… – Nobody said that teaching wasn’t a hard and sometimes thankless job. But…

I think you are missing or deliberately ignoring my points. And I might add, you sound defensive. I am simply trying to give those of you who are teachers some insight from the perspective of several kids who are well-behaved, intelligent high-achievers (and not all of them are my children) into why you may not have the respect you seem to think you deserve. I gave you a partial list of things the kids shouldn’t have to hear from you and your peers. And your response was a list of what you shouldn’t have to put up with.

More teachers should develop the outlook and M.O. of Ron F. It’s a lot better than whining!

Dr. Craig Spinks/ Georgians for Educational Excellence

March 23rd, 2012
4:22 am

“Duty is the sublimest word in the English langauge.”

I love teaching. I hate what it is becoming...

March 23rd, 2012
6:20 am

@Soccermom “I think you are missing or deliberately ignoring my points.”

I pointed out that you are correct about some situations. Then I pointed out that some of those “well-behaved, intelligent high-achievers” are not quite as respectful as folks assume they are… Furthermore, many of them speak exactly the same way to their parents, who seem to feel it is acceptable. I do not engage in “whining” in my classroom in front of my students. They do not “hear” those things from me.

Sorry, but I am not going to constantly be a “little miss sunshine” on this blog in order to keep from being accused of “whining”. There are too many very important issues facing our schools and our students – issues which are bringing about the downfall of our country. And I will keep “whining” about them in hopes that someone will finally start to listen. I have never been one to “sit down and shut up” and I am not starting now.

P.S. I do a lot of the same things Ron. F suggested, but learning what constitutes respect is hard for children when some parents don’t seem to share my value system in terms of what is expected when conversing with adults.