Classroom Discipline: Why Don’t Students Respect Their Teachers?

Previously by Jeremiah Dyke: A Word-Problem World: A World of Mathematical Meaning

The purpose of this short article is to survey the discipline problem within the public school system keeping in mind the over-arching question of why students seem to no longer respect their teachers. At the end of the article, educators will find links to unorthodox advice to aid them in their discipline problems. Now, as a disclaimer, I would like to warn you that I loved a loud classroom when I taught at public schools. Anyone who observed my classroom would attest that it was anything but silent (or what other might label a disciplined classroom). Furthermore, I'm sure I allowed many actions that other teachers didn't; it's just not in my nature to like authority. Thus, I come to you as the glutton offering you great advice on how to lose weight.  

What Are Books Telling Educators To Do? 

A short trip to my local library gave me about a weekends worth of reading on classroom discipline. I won't lie; I wasn't impressed by any of them. Of the roughly 10 books I read, I maybe jotted down a page worth of helpful pros that I could have seen myself using in the classroom. In contrast, I filled numerous pages with disappointing, self-defeating things I would never use! Truthfully, outside our lacking, and completely arbitrary, state-mandated curriculum, advice for behavioral issues is probably among the most disappointing aspects of public education. A typical classroom discipline book reminds me of a corny, twenty-first generation politically correct, Leave it to Beaver episode. Wait, did I mention corny? Yes, it's true that we don't have, and don't need, administrators or educators paddling their students whenever they make mistakes, but we also don't need rooms full of adult sissies! Students rarely respect their teachers anymore, and to counteract this lack of respect, educators attempt to guilt their students into respecting them, or worse, attempt to define who is respectable and why they are one of them. When said strategies don't work, educators instead start pampering themselves with excuses that this is just the way students are today; they lack respect for anything. What a faulty excuse. Has anyone thought that maybe  we should attempt to earn their respect? The point is that students' today lack respect for individuals who believe they can define success for them, as well as define whom they should deem to be failures. Such definitions of respect usually involve good grades, test scores, college, and knowledge of whatever subject the educator teaches. How self-serving! If a student asks me why they should have to be forced to study mathematics I don't proceed to wax on about my measly accomplishments and how important math is to colleges or employers. Even if there is merit in such verbiage, the merit is totally lacking to the students; it is simply too far removed from their life to have relevance (It’s like explaining the merits of retirement planning to a 21 year-old). Instead I take the uninterested criticism as a call to step up my lesson plans, to create better, more fun, ways for them to learn these math ideas. At the very least, if I can’t persuade them to see the relevance of math, I want them to look forward to coming to my math class. I mean, after all, their attendance is in some regards a product of force (force of the state, the parents, etc.); at least I could try to make their stay easier.  

Thus, first and foremost, educators must purge themselves of this idea that, to the student, they are important. That their subject is important.  That their measly accomplishments are important. That their previous learnings are important. That, in a truly free market, one where schools are held accountable for their results, their classroom would even remotely resemble the classroom-assembly-lines we have today. Only from here can we truly begin to network with a student's mind. Only from here can we create a system of mutual respect. 

How do we do this? Well, our first task as educators is to take a second to get real. You and your students work about the same amount of hours per week, yet at the end of the month you receive a pay check and your students get squat! They are carted from their home, via a big yellow bus, where they are constantly told to be quiet and do work until the end of the day where they are carted back home, to which point in time they begin the process of working on the work you didn't have time to cover while they were in class. I can only imagine the advertisement for such a position.

The Chester County Middle School is proud to announce an opening for a full-time student beginning this fall with hours 8:00am-3:30pm Monday-Friday 


  • Must be willing to work 35 hours a week unpaid
  • Must be willing to meet deadlines
  • Must be willing to take work home
  • Must be willing to set quietly for an hour at a time
  • Must be responsible for learning the material presented
  • Must be willing to undergo tremendous pressure from peers
  • Must be willing to listen to daily pep talks about how their life will be ruined if they can't pass standardized tests 
  • Finally, the job is not optional…you must attend! 

I know what you're thinking and my response is sure, they are receiving an education that is valuable for their future, but let's remember that value is subjective. To the student, they are receiving little in exchange for their time. And to indulge the topic of value within the public school system, its role is questionable. Surely the public school system props up the bottom quartile of students, but it most likely pulls down the top quartile of students. Those near the middle are questionable. The fact of the matter is, the United States spends about $123,000 per student for k-12 education. For that price we could build each kid a library at their house and offer them 24-hour tutoring from undergraduates. Therefore, before you go patting yourself on the back, you may want to question if you play any positive educational role at all in your students lives. What are you actually teaching them?   

In other words, stop trying to scare them with stories of “when they get older” or “when they get to college”. Think of it this way, planning for retirement is thought by most to be good thing, investing a little per month over the course of many years will likely lead you to a lucrative retirement. Yet, it's hard for a 20 year old to understand this because to them, retirement is forever away. The same is true for the public school student. The adulthood stories that you keep calling upon to scare them are too far removed from their life to serve any purpose.

On Discipline

Just as parents of a toddler wish some portions of their parenting were easier (be it bedtime, bath time, or eating vegetables), all teachers wish some portion of their teaching were easier. Discipline is simply a function of your own embarrassment. I have a feeling that if classroom walls were soundproof the classrooms would be different in both volume and intensity. Simply put, kids are happier when they are louder and teachers are happier when their kids are happier; therefore, I imagine educators would allow their students to be louder if they weren't afraid of being caught and I imagine that such loudness wouldn't really disrupt learning like everyone supposes it would. When I'm teaching young students, I love a loud classroom! I would rather compete with other students for their attention than to compete with sleepiness or daydreaming. Being loud at least tells me they are awake!  Many individuals are impressed by the fact that an educator can demand silence from their students for an hour by threatening, yelling, or scaring them; I am not. I think it is simply ridiculous! 

In Closing

There is no panacea for classroom discipline; each day will bring new challenges. Kids who impress you will at some point in time embarrass you, just as those who usually embarrass you will sometimes impress you. Some of the research on the subject shows that many educators spend as much as 90 percent of their disciplinary attention on less than 10 percent of the class. To translate this, within any population there are entertainers and there are the entertained; clowns will be clowns! Yet, if we can begin on a level playing field of respect we surly have a better shot at creating a meaningful relationship and productive learning environment. For advice on classroom management see here and here. For Q & A, try here.