How to Treat Teachers, According to Teachers

Put your goddamn phone down, for one.
March 3, 2017, 4:49pm

Teaching is largely a thankless job. The pay is low, the work never ends, and students and parents can sometimes lack respect—a real shame given the colossal scope and importance of the task at hand. Things only seem to be getting harder. Some teachers believe the public school system is under attack, and many are uneasy about what a Trump presidency could mean in the classroom, not unfounded given his choice to head the Department of Education. Good teachers have the capability to shape lives for the better and become profound role models. But that's becoming harder too given the attention of students' has now turned from the head of the class and into their handheld devices. If the American education system is in crisis, the least we can do is listen to the people who work in it. As such, we asked several teachers with various years of experience how they'd like to be treated by students and parents.

Kami, Spanish Teacher, Three Years

I'm a black Spanish teacher at a predominately white school in the Deep South. Many of my students are initially surprised when they see me, and there can be some tricky racial issues to deal with. Once, a student emailed me about something she'd seen on social media, a Facebook post written by a student who was mad about a quiz. She tried to claim it was a pop quiz, but I had been announcing it all week. That night, she made a meme of me: "When your Spanish teacher is black I guess you can't expect them to be organized."

What you do online is your business, but if it impacts other students perception of you, me, or our class, we have a problem. I always want my students to tell me when they are unhappy with my classroom. No matter how disrespectful, obscene, or occasionally racist they do it, I'd rather it be directly.

Daniel, Science Teacher, 21 Years

When I first started teaching, it was much easier to guide my students' attention. Paper, pencils, and a wall clock were all there were to stare at. Nowadays, students are much more prone to distraction. Every student has access to a school laptop and usually his or her own phone, which can become a toxic mix of stimuli. I need my students to treat me with the same amount of attention they give to their apps. I tell my students to think of my class as an app—a science app. Only it'sbetter than Facebook because it might get them into college. I know it sounds corny, but framing it this way actually works for more students than you'd think. The worst thing students can do is never look up from their devices. If one student is totally engrossed in his or her phone, it gives everyone else permission to do the same.

Anne, History Professor, Ten Years

I am fortunate enough to work with exceptionally bright students who want to change the world for the better. They often ask questions or provide a perspective that is a pleasant surprise. I welcome students to attend my office hours as frequently as they like for a deeper discussion about whatever topic has resonated with them. This sort of open intellectual discourse is why I went into this profession.

However, debate and one-on-one attention must be reserved for a time and space outside of my classroom. It is absolutely detrimental when, during a lecture, students choose to interrupt me at the wrong time. Frequently, it is to challenge my narrative and assert their own version of historical events or cultural trends. The social justice movement has been big on our campus. This is a net positive, but I have found many students developing a very aggressive approach to enforcing alternative history and correcting perceived historical wrongs.

Kara, Kindergarten Teacher, 31 Years

When I think back on positive experiences, it really has been because parents invested the time in finding out what their kid was doing and getting to know me, and I invested the time to know them. For me to have a productive and pleasant school day requires a relationship with the kids. I need to know the kids and what makes them tick, and they need to know me and what my expectations are. Every kid needs something different. And getting to know the family helps me be a better teacher. They share information about what is going on in their kids' life with me—like how the dog died last week or that they're moving—so if there is a meltdown going on I know why, and it's not just, "I didn't get to sit on that rug square!"

Steve, Math Teacher, Nine Years

I know math can be intimidating for a lot of kids, so I try to keep the mood in my classroom light. I like developing inside jokes and banter with each of my classes. I want my students to feel comfortable working through problems together and less afraid of being wrong. The issue with this approach rises when my students feel too comfortable in the classroom. High schoolers are obviously keen on feeling accepted, and class-clown types are the absolute worst when it comes to this. I've had a couple of particularly rambunctious class clowns who are always on the lookout for an opportunity to make an obscene joke. Students need to know that, at the end of the day, this is a classroom and I am a teacher who must be shown a certain level of respect. Most students understand those limits, and it helps me when they keep the others in check. It can be a difficult balancing act, but it is always great when the rest of a class knows how to contain their laughter to inappropriate behavior. They provide a little bit of positive peer pressure for the rowdier students who take advantage of the relaxed classroom atmosphere.

Follow Jay Stephens on Twitter.