Rude, late, absent students
Teacher X says, “I teach in an exclusive high school, and I feel that students today are becoming even louder and ruder than before. They seldom listen in class. They laugh and shout … I have tried yelling at them, but it doesn’t work.”
Teacher Y says, “This is my second year of teaching sophomore students in college. Students often come in late, disrupting the flow of instruction. Many cut classes … Threats don’t seem to work.”
Teacher Z says, “My university allowed students recently to [bring to class their] laptops, which they say they use to take notes. But many play games rather than listen to the lesson. When our school installs Wi-Fi, I am afraid students will do Facebook or surf the Net in class. I want to confiscate the laptops of offenders, but I don’t want to appear a killjoy.”
These teachers handle different levels and subjects in different schools. The problems may seem different but, in reality, they point to one thing: lack of respect for the teacher.
What makes students disrespect the teacher? Sometimes the reason can be innocuous. After watching a great movie, they may discuss it animatedly at the top of their voices. But if they like and respect you, they will quiet down and pay attention when the class begins.
Reflect on yourself
If students seldom listen, play games on their laptops, arrive late or cut classes, you may need to reflect on yourself and your teaching style.
Have you mastered the lesson? Do you make frequent mistakes? Students usually tune out teachers who they feel are not competent enough and, rightly or wrongly, not worth their time and attention.
Students may find your lectures boring. You have to motivate them to listen to you. Make sure you are heard in all corners of the room. Speak confidently but do not yell. Silence is a better attention-grabber. You can remain silent even for 15 minutes. Pretty soon, students will take notice and may start telling each other to be quiet.
Start the class with a riveting anecdote (about current music, sports or movies). Tell students to research on humorous tales (related to the lesson) and ask a couple of them to get the class engaged.
Never parrot the textbook. Students prefer teachers who give them value-added things to think about, instead of regurgitating what is in the text or droning on about things they find irrelevant to their lives.
In his book “On Course,” Harvard professor James Lang says, “Ensure that you are creating a classroom experience which students could not duplicate by copying someone else’s lecture notes, or by listening to a recording of your lecture. Students, in other words, should play a role in the classroom. If you are giving students a role to play—through discussions, group work, in-class writing, problem-solving, and so on— then you have every right to say that the success of the course depends upon the presence of the students, and to require that presence. If you are standing in front of a podium and lecturing for 50 minutes, then I’m with the tardy and missing students on this one—why should they come to class, when they can get the same material more efficiently … from other means?”
You owe it to others
Many times though, even if you are the best teacher on the planet, students, for whatever reason, do not want to learn. Lang puts it bluntly, “Students, like the rest of the population, can be just rude idiots, so sometimes your best teaching efforts won’t be enough to eliminate such behaviors.”
In this case, you need to practice what traditionally is called “classroom management.” Schools have rules on tardiness or absences. Students are human, and teenagers can be a trial as much to their teachers as to their parents.
Many students may be rude, absent, late. But there are also students who want to listen, who are punctual, who are always present. These students genuinely want to learn, and you owe it to them to keep the difficult ones in line.
Try various ways of dealing with erring students by knowing what makes them tick. If you feel they can take it, call attention to their behavior without embarrassing or humiliating them.
Instead of sarcastically saying, “Wow, students so and so are gracing us with their presence today! Come on, class, let’s give them a hand!” just say, “Please try not to be late, since it disrupts the class. I am sure you care for your classmates, and you want what is best for them.”
Or discuss the behavior with the errant students privately. If you teach in a high school, this can be done after class or during breaks. In the university, see them in your office. Courteously but firmly remind students of their duties in school and their responsibilities to themselves, to you and to others. Remind them of school rules and the consequences of absences, tardiness and/or misbehavior. If problems persist, ask help from senior faculty, department chair, guidance office or disciplinary committee.
As for electronic devices, inform students on the first day of class about rules, including the consequences of improper use. Start with verbal warnings then written reprimand (parents should get copies), followed by referral to the discipline office. If students still disregard the rules, a total ban.
Even if the school allows it, you are ultimately in charge in your classroom. Lang says, “No student has a constitutional right to bring a laptop to class, so you have every right to forbid them (you might announce that you will make special provisions for students with disabilities, however). Don’t feel bad about it; students have been taking notes with pencil and paper for many hundreds of years; it won’t kill them.”
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