I’ve recently struggled to keep my class of fifth graders from saying whatever pops into their heads at any moment during the day. I’ve pondered the reasons why students these days seem to have such poor impulse control, and why they don’t seem to have a sense of respect for authority. In a recent conversation with my 80-something parents, they told me they could not recall any student ever speaking out of turn in class when they were in elementary school, and as I remembered my own experience, I had to admit the same was true in our school.
While I do believe attitudes regarding authority in general have changed significantly since I was a child, and certainly since my parents were children, the problem isn’t so much that this has infected the students as it is that adults (especially of my generation) have forgotten the distinction between adults and children. We want to remain youthful so we treat young people as peers, seeking their approval rather than their respect.
The reason my fifth graders speak out of turn is that I have allowed them to do so! Telling them to be quiet is not enough, as any teacher knows, at least until you’ve established that you mean what you say. If there is no consequence for speaking out of turn, why shouldn’t they do it? I can’t change the culture, and I can’t make their parents bring them up differently, but I can see to it that they recognize my authority by actually having some. I’m the adult; I need to act like one, and expect them to follow my lead.