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FIRST-PERSON: Chaos in the school classroom

ARLINGTON, Va. (BP)–Two veteran public school teachers “lost it” last month over student misbehavior.

A Tennessee algebra teacher tried vainly to quiet his class as students talked, laughed, walked around and mocked him. Finally, he said, “You want entertainment?” and then promptly smashed a desk and hurled chairs. He was placed on administrative leave. In New York, a music teacher “snapped,” pushing a misbehaving student against a locker and throwing a backpack at him. He too is on administrative leave.

While the teachers’ loss of control is unacceptable, so too is a classroom environment that makes learning impossible.

Certainly, the litigious atmosphere in schools is partly to blame — teachers have few options for dealing with unruly students. (Typical classroom “behavior contracts” offer rewards for good behavior, but no consequences for bad behavior.)

But, a large measure of responsibility falls on our shoulders as parents. When even good students text during class, talk out loud, or speak disrespectfully to teachers, it’s a failure of parenting more than a failure of the schools. It’s up to us to hold our children to a higher standard — one that shows respect in dress, tone of voice, words and actions.

And, it all starts at home.

Walk through the halls of nearly any school and you are likely to see motivational posters declaring the need for “respect” in the school community. But, posters do little good when students don’t have a clue what “respect” looks like.

That’s our job.

Label respectful and disrespectful behavior for your child. Eye-rolling, heavy sighs, and body language should not be tolerated at home. Insist that your child listen to others’ viewpoints, and express his or her own views, with a thoughtful demeanor. Because the pop culture models sneering sarcasm and disrespect as the norm, it’s easy for our children to assume that the norm is acceptable.

The earlier you teach a child the right way to behave, the more likely they are to live that way throughout their lives.

Children’s TV shows and videos feature wisecracking adolescents whose one-liners and sarcastic comebacks dominate any conversation with adults. It seems the child always gets the last word.

That was called “backtalk” when I grew up.

Point out that sometimes respect is best conveyed by silence — not saying the very thing that comes to mind. It takes maturity to restrain the impulse to toss off a funny comment, just to get a few laughs from their peers, when that comment undermines the teacher’s authority.

A teacher friend of mine reminded me that parents should guide their “good kids” to make a difference in creating a classroom culture of respect. Some of our children are gifted leaders. Their leadership is meant not only for the sports field, student government, or clubs but also for the classroom, supporting a culture that takes learning seriously.

If the smartest student in the class openly brags how little time she spends on homework, it suggests disrespect for the teacher and the value of education as well. While the bright student may skate by on natural brains, the less gifted child who displays the same attitude is likely to fail.

Similarly, a classroom leader who chooses to text in class or check sports scores on their cell phone erodes the climate of respect within the classroom. Alternatively, a well-timed encouragement for others to “Listen!” can make a difference. Remind your children that when they step up to the plate and demonstrate respect for authority, it sets the tone for others to follow.

Lastly, if your child is in a school where the principal and teachers have lost all control and refuse to foster a civil environment, then your best bet may be to home school, or find alternative means of education.

After all, if a school does not teach that Golden Rule, then they have little hope of teaching anything else.
Rebecca Hagelin is a pro-family advocate, speaker and author. Her latest book is “30 Ways in 30 Days to Save Your Family.” Sign up for her e-newsletter at www.howtosaveyourfamily.com.

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  • Rebecca Hagelin