Teacher Finds Teens Disrespectful


Dear Dr. Sylvia:

Q. I'd like to share an experience I had with a student yesterday. I let the students have a dry erase marker so they could play hangman on the board at the end of the period. The word they chose was "mobster." When they tired of hangman, one of them started drawing gang symbols on the board. I explained that he would be written up if he did that and the markers weren't for play.

Next, he started writing graffiti on the board, so I asked for the marker back. He whined and said I was silly. I said, "The markers are my personal property; I paid for them, and I donít want them wasted. I use them for teaching and for educational purposes. Please give the markers back to me." He said, "What? These cost 50 cents for f__'s sake." I then said, "Young man, the markers do not belong to you, and they're not to be wasted. Please hand them over."

I turned back to my newspaper and waited, pretending not to watch. After about 15 seconds, he put the marker back on my desk. I told him to erase his graffiti, which he did slowly.

I think that teens donít like it when parents and teachers say no to them. I never would have acted the way this boy did, so I wonder if he's not made to follow rules at home. I was too tired for a battle, but I couldn't let this happen either. It's a struggle getting students to follow simple rules.


A. Adolescence has always been a time when teens push limits a little, but youíre absolutely correct that more teens are disrespectful today than in the past. It does seem that each generation becomes a bit more difficult to parent and teach, and adolescent disrespect begins earlier and earlier. The media's image of teens being disrespectful toward adults hurts parent and teacher efforts. Fortunately, there continue to be many wonderful teenagers who look to their teachers and parents for guidance and who accomplish amazing contributions and challenges. Consider also, that the disrespectful ones may be dealing with their own feelings of failure.

Thanks for hanging in there and setting limits for those teens who push too hard. While the cost of a marker isn't the major problem, the boy's disrespect had to be stopped, and you managed that beautifully without further battle. Remember, that for every student who stays in school just to push teacher buttons, there are hundreds who look to you as role models and willingly learn what you teach so that they can lead productive and positive lives. By the time children are in high school, parents don't often take the opportunity to thank teachers, so for all those parents who are also struggling to guide their own adolescents, we appreciate your firmness and your kindness.

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