The American education system has started struggling as more and more teachers choose to leave the field to pursue another career path. Although there’s a wide range of potential reasons why a teacher may decide to change their career, one of the most oft-cited is the lack of respect they get from their students. But what’s the root cause of this unhealthy dynamic?
Common causes of this lack of respect for teachers include:
- Teachers don’t respect their students back.
- Teachers use outdated pedagogies.
- Teachers use outdated technologies.
- Teachers aren’t trained to handle difficult situations.
- There’s a lack of consistent classroom discipline.
- Teachers assign poorly constructed assignments.
- External circumstances are affecting a student’s behavior.
In this article, I’ll take you through each of these reasons that might be causing students to lack respect for their teachers and what teachers can do to gain more respect from their prodigies.
Reasons Why Students Lack Respect for Teachers
When it comes to finding the root cause of what might be making a student lack respect for their teacher, it can be challenging to objectively pinpoint a reason. Every student within the US education system has a unique, complex experience that forms the basis of all their interactions. However, there are several factors that might be contributing to the unhealthy dynamic.
1. Teachers Don’t Respect Their Students Back
When students are asked directly about their lack of respect for teachers, many reply that they respect teachers who respect them back. Teachers and other authority figures are no longer placed on a pedestal where respect is automatically implied based on their position.
Instead, respect has become a two-way street, as it needs to be reciprocated by teachers in order for a healthy, strong relationship to be fostered between the people involved.
Experienced music teacher Tanner talks about how showing respect to students can help garner respect from them back in this YouTube video:
Treating Students Like Children
Although most students technically are children, treating them like adults can help teachers garner more respect. This includes speaking to them politely and calmly, without ridicule. An easy way to do this is to address students as Ms./Mr. Lastname instead of just using their first name.
Teachers can also benefit from attempting to work with their students directly to resolve classroom issues before contacting their parents or taking away recess time as punishment. For some students, this may be the first time that an authority figure has worked with them to attempt to resolve a problem instead of immediately turning to punitive measures.
Not Cultivating Relationships
Respect is all about relationships. When teachers don’t take the time to cultivate relationships with their students, they lose the opportunity to gain their respect. These relationships can be especially important for students who don’t have very many engaged adults present in their lives.
Compassion can be a powerful tool for teachers to develop relationships with their students. Teacher Andrea Marshbank writes about how she changed her classroom management style to focus more on compassion, resulting in an environment where students felt they could trust her. This led to them showing more respect for her and her abilities.
However, she does note the need to differentiate compassion from friendship, noting that it’s easy for teachers to look for approval from their students. Failing to maintain a healthy boundary can lead to students quickly losing respect.
2. Teachers Use Outdated Pedagogies
In today’s rapidly changing world, teachers need to keep up with the times regarding the teaching styles and pedagogies they use.
While many school systems around the world still prioritize rote learning, this approach is no longer the primary learning method used in American schools. Instead, students are encouraged to complete their own research and develop critical thinking skills to evaluate information and make informed decisions.
While rote learning may be appropriate in some circumstances, such as learning multiplication tables, teachers should limit this teaching style whenever possible. Instead, they should consider multiple learning methods and focus on exploring new pedagogies that may work better with their students.
Lengthy lectures are another outdated pedagogy that some teachers still use, especially when teaching advanced subjects. However, students (and adults!) don’t often have the attention span to listen to a lecture without any breaks or interaction.
Instead, teachers can try breaking up lectures into shorter chunks with engaging activities interspersed throughout. Younger students typically require more breaks, while older ones can go a bit longer before they begin to lose focus.
3. Teachers Use Outdated Technologies
Technology is changing and growing faster than ever, and America’s youth is keeping up, often outpacing the adults. This can create challenges for teachers who don’t have the time, resources, or inclination to do the same.
There’s a growing disconnect between how different generations use technology in their everyday lives.
Teachers who cling to outdated technologies are performing a disservice to their digital native students and missing out on the opportunity to teach them the tenets of digital citizenship. This resistance to adapt can result in teachers attempting to limit or even ban students from using technology (like computers and smartphones) in their classrooms in a misguided attempt to keep them engaged.
Not only does this often have the opposite effect, as students will become more distracted than ever trying to hide their smartphones and iPads during lectures, but it can also negatively impact the respect they feel toward their teacher as an authoritative figure.
Poorly Utilized Technologies
When teachers utilize technology in their classrooms, they must keep up-to-date with tech upgrades. Many adults don’t realize that technology companies are constantly working to improve and innovate their products, so adults should check for and update their apps and devices accordingly.
Failure to keep software and other applications up to date can create security risks and decrease the effectiveness of the application. Not updating apps and software can result in glitchy and slow technology, factors that will frustrate both teachers and students alike. Students can quickly become judgemental, resulting in a lack of respect for a teacher who doesn’t know or understand their tools.
If a teacher successfully keeps their classroom technologies up-to-date, they still need to work on how they combine that tech with their teaching pedagogy. For example, many teachers use PowerPoint (or a similar slide presentation software) to accompany their lectures. However, many of them fail to use this tool effectively.
They cram too much information onto a single slide, document their lecture verbatim, and use distracting fonts, animations, and colors. All of this takes away from the students’ ability to learn from technology.
4. Teachers Aren’t Trained To Handle Difficult Situations
Teachers may have completed specialized training before entering a classroom, but that training often fails to adequately address how one can handle challenging situations beyond academics.
Teachers are pulled in many directions. Between students and their parents, administrators, and school boards, the number of social interactions a teacher should be able to handle can be overwhelming. While they may be highly-educated in their subject, they often are less prepared on how to behave professionally in a world with so many demands on their time and energy.
Poor Planning and Time Management
Most teachers have assigned schedules, often referred to as contract hours, that indicate when they are required to be on school grounds. However, these schedules often include classes scheduled for each hour throughout the day, with no time set aside for the planning and administrative work that is also required.
Without this planning time, teachers either have to constantly take work home with them or reduce the amount of planning that goes into their lessons. This can result in haphazard lessons that are poorly planned and executed.
The students can tell when a teacher hasn’t put in sufficient planning time or fails to manage their classroom time effectively. This can lead them to lose respect for the teacher as they feel disrespected that such an authoritative figure didn’t view their time as valuable.
Ignoring Student Questions
Students tend to have a lot of questions, especially when they are discovering something new or developing a more profound mastery of a subject. Asking questions and having discussions are commonly used teaching methods that help develop a student’s critical thinking skills.
Studies indicate that teachers who regularly address student questions and encourage discussion create a classroom where respect and love of learning are part of the culture. In classrooms where questions are ignored or discouraged, students lose respect for the teacher and the learning environment.
5. There’s a Lack of Consistent Classroom Discipline
Teachers must establish their expectations for their classrooms early in the academic year. Ambiguous policies can lead to severe problems throughout the rest of the year as students grow increasingly frustrated when classroom discipline is enforced sporadically, inconsistently, or not at all.
Handling Disruptive Students
Disruptive students can amplify any problem in a classroom. They distract other students from doing their own work and take up most of a teacher’s time and energy. Students will struggle to respect a teacher who cannot keep control of their classroom and handle disruptive students quickly and consistently.
Disruptive students can be particularly challenging for new teachers who want to be supportive and compassionate towards their classroom. This frequently results in attempting to ignore the disruptive behavior and simply redirecting the class back to the lesson.
This re-direction rarely works as a long-term solution as the disruptions typically continue to increase in duration and frequency, often culminating in much more serious situations such as an assault on another student.
When we look back on our own education, we likely recall who the “teacher’s pet” was in some of our classes. This person probably received extra perks from the teacher and was given a de facto leadership position over their peers. While the teacher’s pet may have enjoyed their position of status and power, their peers likely did not.
Studies have shown that singling out a student as the teacher’s favorite is detrimental to the entire classroom environment. It negatively impacts the emotional climate within the classroom, as well as individual students’ social development and academic achievements. This negative impact on the classroom often translates to a lack of respect for the teacher by the other students.
6. Teachers Assign Poorly Constructed Assignments
Students know when a teacher isn’t putting in much effort to assign classroom work and homework. This lack of effort can cause them to think their teacher doesn’t value the work that goes into completing an assignment and lead to a lack of respect.
Inconsistent Grading Policies
Students talk to each other about their assignments and the grades that they are given. They can tell when a teacher hasn’t bothered to review the work before assigning it a grade. Sometimes teachers have run out of time to grade completed work, but this doesn’t lessen the frustration of a student who worked hard on an assignment.
They can also tell when a teacher isn’t using a rubric to fairly and accurately review work. Rubrics are a vital tool when it comes to sharing expectations about an assignment. They’re critical in helping teachers to assign grades consistently, especially if they have a lot of work to review in a short amount of time.
Not using a rubric means that students who had papers at the top of a pile may receive a better/worse grade than their peers, as the teacher has more energy and is paying more attention during the grading process. It can also result in inaccurate grades for work at the bottom of the pile, demonstrating a lack of consistency.
Assigning Busy Work
Teachers who haven’t planned their lessons well may fall back on assigning work just to keep students busy during the school day. Although some repetition and practice can be helpful when mastering new concepts, some teachers don’t know when to stop.
Busy work can lead to resentment by students, especially those who quickly pick up on a new concept or who already know the material well. They don’t like “wasting” time on things they already know and can be frustrated thinking that their teacher doesn’t respect their time.
7. External Circumstances Are Affecting a Student’s Behavior
A final factor that affects how much students interact with and respect their teachers involves external circumstances. These circumstances are often beyond the control of both the teacher and student, making it a challenge to address them in the classroom.
Students can manifest these stressors in different ways, including failing to show respect for their teachers. While most of these external circumstances are out of anyone’s control, knowing they exist can help identify where a student may need extra support, which can be beneficial for teachers looking to cultivate meaningful relationships as a pathway to mutual respect.
Although students are in the classroom for six to eight hours almost every day, their family situation outside of the school can be a critical factor in how they behave. Students who come from challenging family situations might not have parents or other adults who model appropriate respect for others.
These students may have limited experience understanding how respect works, and their behavior follows the only path they have ever known.
Other at-home factors can impact a student’s entire worldview in ways that teachers may not always realize. For example, a student who doesn’t get enough to eat at home may be so hungry during the school day that they cannot interact with their peers and teachers appropriately or even pay attention during lessons.
Other students may have so many additional responsibilities at home, such as child care, household chores, or caring for an ill or aging parent, that they don’t get enough sleep and are thus exhausted during the school day.
With the 24-hour news cycle, students are constantly being bombarded by all of the terrible things happening in the world at any given time. Not all students handle this kind of negative information well, leading to anxiety and depression. Although some students may benefit from talking about these world affairs, others may need a break from them.
There’s no doubt that the global pandemic has created additional stress for both students and teachers. The shift to online learning and working was challenging for everyone, and the constant unknowns of what the next day or week would bring created unprecedented anxiety.
School can be a highly stressful environment for both students and their teachers. Teachers often fail to show mutual respect for their students and don’t cultivate the relationships many students need to succeed.
Teachers may also struggle with using outdated methods and technologies, keeping classroom discipline, and assigning thoughtful and appropriate assignments. Students are also subject to many external stressors that neither they nor the teacher can control, which can be reflected in how they interact with teachers and other authority figures.
If you want to improve your relationship with your students, check out the article How To Win Over Your Students Fast.
- LinkedIn Pulse: Why teachers are losing the respect from students: 10 Reasons
- Education Week: ‘Students Respect Teachers Who They Feel Respect Them’
- Journal of Leadership Education: The Construct of ‘Respect’ in Teacher-Student Relationships: Exploring Dimensions of Ethics of Care and Sustainable Development
- Western Governors University Hey Teach!: How to Earn Respect in the Classroom
- Rochester Institute of Technology Reporter Magazine: Why teachers need more respect
- KQED: Teaching Respect and Responsibility – Even to Digital Natives
- Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development: How Powerpoint is Killing Education
- Western Governors University Hey Teach!: 8 Classroom Management Mistakes Teachers Make at the Beginning of the Year
- SpringerLink: The teacher’s pet phenomenon 25 years on
- Education Resources Information Center: Classroom Environments of Respect for Questioning and Discussion
- Edutopia: Compassion As a Classroom Management Tool
- YouTube: Tanner PLS: Why students don’t respect their teacher
- Eric Education: 1 Classroom Environments of Respect for Questioning and Discussion Yvette Powell Robitaille, EdD Nancy Maldonado, PhD Walden Uni