Teachers and Teens: A Rudeness Report Card

A podcast from Alex Packer, etiquette guru and author of How Rude!® The Teen Guide to Good Manners, Proper Behavior, and Not Grossing People Out.

Fifth in a monthly series of podcasts from Free Spirit Publishing.

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Podcast transcription:
HowRudeTeachers playing favorites. Teens texting in class. Dogs eating homework. Schools, by their very nature, are breeding grounds for rudeness. You’ve got stressed-out kids competing for grades, popularity, and college admissions. You’ve got stressed-out teachers dealing with stressed-out students. (And could you also cure society’s ills while you’re at it?) To help keep your school on the honor roll of polite behavior, etiquette expert Alex Packer is here to take a look at the fourth “R”—rudeness in the hallowed halls.

People wonder why there isn’t more politeness in schools. How much politeness can there be in a place where, every 43 minutes, you get bowled over by a million stampeding sneakers? It’s a miracle there’s as much politeness in schools as there is. But there needs to be more. Why? Because teens and teachers spend more of their waking day in school than anyplace else. And they deserve a school climate that’s safe, respectful, and friendly.

The climate of a school is essentially what it feels like to be there. Research shows that the better a school’s climate, the more likely its students are to enjoy school, do well academically, behave morally, and stay out of trouble with the law. Schools with outstanding social climates share a number of characteristics, including:

  • a prideful sense of community
  • explicitly stated values
  • high expectations for student behavior and achievement
  • respect for the needs and feelings of others
  • close student-teacher relationships
  • creamed corn for lunch every Tuesday

In other words, in schools that students and faculty enjoy attending, people are polite to one another.

To come up with a code of school etiquette, we need to know more about what makes a school climate polite or rude. So I surveyed students and teachers about . . .

Rudeness in the Learning Environment

Well, hold on to your baseball caps, because when I asked teachers, “Do you think students today are more polite, less polite, or the same as when you were growing up?” Seventy-three percent said “less polite.”

Before you conclude that these teachers were just dumping on kids, roughly the same proportion of teachers also said that adults are less polite today than they were a generation ago.

So let’s look first at rudeness in schools from the teachers’ perspective. Here are some Rude Things Students Do that cause teachers to go home at night and tear out their hair:

  1. Talk back.
  2. Talk while the teacher is trying to teach.
  3. Not raise their hand.
  4. Not say “Please,” “Thank you,” and “Excuse me.”
  5. Use electronic devices inappropriately.
  6. Not pay attention.
  7. Not take responsibility for their actions.
  8. Not prepare assignments.
  9. Lie. Swear. Say “whatever.”
  10. Continue a behavior after being asked to stop.

But school climate is just as much a function of how teachers treat students. So here, according to teens, are some Rude Things Teachers Do to Students:

  1. Make fun of us in front of the whole class.
  2. Deliberately ignore us.
  3. Punish the whole class for something one person did.
  4. Call on us when they know we don’t have the answer.
  5. Say sarcastic things.
  6. Yell at us.
  7. Not listen to our side of the story.
  8. Not take the time to explain things.
  9. Not return our papers or tests.
  10. Play favorites.
  11. Say that we can’t use the bathroom.

WOW. That’s a lot of rudeness. And this doesn’t even include the Rude Things Students Do to Each Other, such as:

  1. Say cruel things.
  2. Call each other names.
  3. Put each other down.
  4. Hit, push, trip, shove, and bully each other.
  5. Gossip or spread rumors.
  6. Dump books.
  7. Take personal belongings without asking.
  8. Exclude each other.
  9. Bully someone about their sexual orientation.
  10. Trash someone on Facebook or Twitter.

How Rude!

These behaviors and attitudes injure feelings and interfere with every student’s right to learn—and every teacher’s right to teach—in a safe, respectful school climate.

Everyone benefits (except lawyers) when people behave civilly to one another. To keep good manners from playing hooky at your school, create—and state—codes of conduct that encourage tolerance, compassion, kindness, and consideration . . .

AND that respect the rights, feelings, privacy, property, and person of all members of that school community. There’s no better way to create a warm, productive environment. Now that’s climate change we can all get behind!

Class dismissed.

Until next time, this is Alex Packer, etiquette guru and author of
How Rude!® The Teen Guide to Good Manners, Proper Behavior, and Not Grossing People Out

Wise Highs from Free Spirit PublishingAlex J. Packer received his Ph.D. in educational and developmental psychology from Boston College and his master’s degree in education from Harvard. He has been headmaster of an alternative school for 11- to 15-year-olds and director of education at the Capital Children’s Museum. He is president emeritus of FCD Educational Services, a Boston-based provider of drug education and substance abuse prevention services to schools worldwide. He is also the author of an e-book for teens Wise Highs: How to Thrill, Chill, and Get Away From It All Without Alcohol or Drugs.

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