This is a very simple question, with a resounding answer of no. However, a more complex question is: Should we be nice to students that commit bad behavior? Should they be given nice gestures, even though they sometimes make bad judgment calls? This is the educational equivalent of which comes first, the chicken or the egg? Who should show respect, kindness, or generosity, first, the teacher or the student?
Educational scholars agree that bad student behavior is a symptom of a much larger problem. As a group we understand that students are faced with many issues: physical abuse, sexual abuse, emotional abuse, missing parent(s), and poverty, etc. Students use the bad behavior to mask the problems in their lives. Historically behavior is addressed in a punitive manner with very little concern for the root of the behavior.
When students don’t respond positively to this approach we begin an educational downward spiral. It looks similar to this:
- The student resists
- Teacher becomes agitated
- Student becomes more apathetic
- Teacher writes student up
- Student spends a day out of class for ALC
- Student is now a day behind and more apathetic
- Teacher’s anxiety is going high because she’s held accountable for student’s success
- Student becomes more agitated and completely refuses to work and he/she becomes disruptive to the class
- Because of the disruption the teacher is not able to adequately instruct the other students.
- The class productivity goes down/teacher’s stress and anxiety reaches an even higher level.
- Student is sent to ALC for three days and will never catch up, because he/she couldn’t careless about the class or teacher
Beginning in January of 2018, Lewisburg Middle School decided to try an experiment to help answer those problems. The administration began picking one teacher each week to nominate four students from their class to have a sit down meal with on Fridays. The students were chosen simply because they were Lewisburg Patriots, no other reason.
Each Thursday the students were personally invited by the school administration and told which teacher nominated them. On Friday, the students were given Chick Fil A and each student and the teacher were served their meal by the administrator.
During the meal the students were asked simple questions: What was your high moment and low moment for the week? What do you want to be when you grow up? What is one thing you would change if you could be Principal for a day? These questions were meant to provoke conversation and build relationships between staff and students. This was a time of acceptance and friendship, not chastisement or discipline.
The teacher and administration began to see a different side of each student. The inviting atmosphere allowed the students to let their guard down. One student admitted that their bedroom had so many leaks in it that the sheetrock was falling of the wall. Another student shared with the teacher that this was the first time he had ever eaten Chick Fil A because it is too expensive for his parents to afford. I have to admit that the next week he ate his second Chick Fil A sandwich ever!
One hundred and fifty students were able to participate in this experiment of kindness. In almost every case the student’s attendance went up, their discipline went down, and their class performance went up. The students were able to connect with their teacher in a way they never had before. They had an advocate in the building they felt comfortable with.
The educational environment is rigid and stressful. Expectations are at an all time high for both student and teacher. Convincing students to perform at their best is paramount. Wouldn’t it be awesome if students looked forward to working hard for the teacher? The results of this year long experiment proves that building a positive relationship with students will encourage students to take pride in their work. Once the students begin to take pride in their work the teacher’s stress will go down. The teacher’s morale will go up and then they will become a more effective teacher.
I believe the answer to our initial question is that the teacher should be the first to show respect, kindness, and generosity. I have had an awesome time over the past year proving it. I have gotten to know and understand the students at Lewisburg Middle School on a much more in depth level. I have also become more understanding of the stresses and struggles the teachers have to live with on a daily basis.
(I would like to recognize BankPlus of Olive Branch and B and H Insurance of Hernando for financially supporting this experiment. I would also like to thank the teachers at Lewisburg Middle School for embracing this “new” way of addressing student issues.)
Lewisburg Middle School