Respect for teachers still lacking

To understand why respect for teachers in this country remains so low, it’s necessary to rewind the tape to the mid-Seventies (“Teachers Deserve More Respect,” The New York Times, Mar. 20).  Prior to 1975, teachers were allowed to act in loco parentis. That meant they had the authority to discipline students who were disruptive for one reason or another.

But in 1975 the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Goss v. Lopez that students had the right to due-process protection for even the most minor aspects of day-to-day discipline.  One year later, the high court held in Wood v. Strickland that if teachers knowingly violated a student’s due-process rights they could be held personally responsible for financial damages.

It’s not surprising that once their authority was undermined, morale plummeted.  I saw that when I was teaching in the Los Angeles Unified School District at the high school where I taught for 28 years before retiring.  Teachers at my school felt intimidated.  As a result, they were reluctant to do anything that might lead to a confrontation with parents.

It was a short walk from that to near total chaos in classrooms.  Students knew their new-found rights and intended to use them.  We’re seeing the effects today and will continue to see them until teachers are once again allowed to exercise their authority.

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4 Replies to “Respect for teachers still lacking”

  1. I used to think that the main cause of chaotic classrooms was the way that teachers, administrators and the courts dealt with student misbehavior.

    However, my thinking has evolved. Agree that teachers, administrators and the courts could implement changes that would significantly reduce student misbehavior.

    But, I now think that the main cause of student misbehavior (and the resulting chaos in many classrooms, particularly in the low-SES areas) is the elimination of tracking. We eliminated tracking at around the same time that we recognized student rights in the disciplinary process.

    No doubt my thinking is a bit simplistic, but it seems likely that if there is no tracking, then each time a teacher teaches a lesson that lesson is too advanced for a big chunk of the class and/or too simple for another big chunk of the class. The students who are sitting through the too-advanced lesson will get frustrated; the students who are sitting through the too-simple lesson will get bored. The frustrated and bored students will resort to minor misbehavior to relieve the frustration and boredom. When there are a lot of frustrated and/or bored students, the misbehavior will become endemic. Then the classroom becomes chaotic.

    This harm flowing from the elimination of tracking is particularly serious in the lower-SES inner-city schools. These schools are pretty much compelled to teach courses at more-or-less grade level notwithstanding that most of the students sitting in the classrooms are functioning below — often far below — grade level. This ensures that there will be a significant number of seriously frustrated students in most classrooms in the low-SES inner-city schools. And, that is where we see the most chaos.

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  2. Labor Lawyer: I agree with you that the elimination of tracking contributes to misbehavior. When students see little connection between what they are studying or find what they are studying too difficult, they become disruptive. But there was a time when teachers were allowed to act in loco parentis. In those times, teachers received respect from students. Today the entire picture has change because of the student-rights movement of the 1960s and the Supreme Court decisions that I cited.

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    1. But we see much less misbehavior in the higher-SES schools. Seems like it’s these schools where the students (and parents) would be most knowledgeable re students’ rights.

      Obviously, students whose parents strongly encourage them to behave in school and/or respect teachers will be less likely to misbehave in school. And, one could make the easy assumption that higher-SES parents are much more likely to encourage their kids to behave in school and/or respect teachers than lower-SES parents. But, I’ve seen studies that suggest the opposite is true — or that at least the pattern is mixed. As I recall, the studies showed that lower-SES parents were generally stricter re misbehavior generally and school misbehavior particularly than higher-SES parents; same with respect for teachers. Higher-SES parents put greater emphasis on the importance of academic achievement than lower-SES parents, but lower-SES parents put greater emphasis on not misbehaving than higher-SES parents. An unattractive example would be the possibly accurate stereotype of the lower-SES parent who threatens to beat the kid if the school calls to report that the kid misbehaved or disrespected a teacher.

      There’s also the fact that minor misbehavior in low-SES areas gets progressively worse as the kids get older — relatively little misbehavior in K-3, more in 4-6, a lot in 7-12. If lower-SES parent attitudes tolerating misbehavior/disrespect were driving the misbehavior, you’d expect to see the most misbehavior in the early elementary years (when parent attitudes dominated and school influences had not yet taken hold) and less misbehavior in the later school years (when school influences rather than parent attitudes dominated).

      The misbehavior-gets-worse-as-kids-move-up-through-the-grades supports my frustration-with-too-difficult-instruction-causes-misbehavior analysis. Each year, the low-SES kids are falling further behind “grade level” and academic work at grade level is becoming increasingly difficult/frustrating.

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  3. Labor Lawyer: So much depends on the parents and the values they inculcate in their children about teachers and education. Low SES students tend to come from fragmented backgrounds where there are no adults who impress upon children the importance of education. But that has long been the case. My point is that when teachers were allowed to act in loco parentis, there was greater order in classrooms.

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