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Winter 2009 Vol. 17. No. 3 Focus on School Climate

Theme articles

Students speak out on teacher-student conflict

By Kate Nelson on Dec 4, 2009 11:55 AM

Recently the Notebook met with high school students to talk about the reasons for conflict between teachers and students and strategies for improving these relationships. Thirteen students from six different schools participated. Some teachers also joined the discussion. Thanks to the Philadelphia Student Union, Youth United for Change, and the Teacher Action Group for their assistance.

Not surprisingly, students, like teachers, have differences over these issues, but some common themes emerge. Here are the students in their own words.

Why students misbehave

“Sometimes things are going on in their lives that teachers don’t know about. They’re anxious, upset, or angry because of these things, and it comes out in the classroom.” –Khalif

“Most of the time students act up to get attention. With so many kids and so much going on, they don’t get enough attention.” –Shawanda

“So many students are influenced by the people around them.… Like me, I was extremely immature in my 9th and 10th grade year, but this year I decided I wasn’t going to let other people decide who I am.” –Norermys

“Some students act out to conceal lack of skills or knowledge. They can’t do the work, and they don’t want people to know it.” –Khalif

“I don’t like people trying to control my life. I’m my own man…. I don’t like people telling me what I got to do. But if you come up and ask me, that’s different.” –Chris

Shawanda Skinner, Chris Yoak, Alessandra Rodriguez, and Norermys Rivera (left to right), all Kensington Culinary students, discuss teacher-student conflict.

Teaching and student behavior

“The biggest behavior problem…is talking in class. Nobody wants to sit for an hour at a desk and hear the teacher teach the same thing day after day. They’re bored.” –Norermys

“Most teachers are okay, but there are two who have problems. One is late all the time. The other gives too much work and doesn’t communicate with us.” –Jerehmia

“One teacher at my school just says flat out she doesn’t like teaching. She just reads the textbook, messed up our grades…. Students resent it.” –Iyana

“Students need to take responsibility, too. They’re always complaining about how messed up the class is, but then they’re the ones messing it up.” –Krystal

“Some teachers move too fast, give you two minutes to copy something down. Students can’t get it done and get mad.” –Chris

“I know two teachers at my school who teach the same grade and subject. The difference is one has a great attitude and skills, the other doesn’t. The behavior of the students in these two classes is like night and day.” –Iyana

YUC member Joacim Fuentes-Rojas (left) and Kensington Culinary teacher Jonny Rashid share a laugh.


“The rules need to be enforced across the board. Every teacher needs to follow the same rules…. There needs to be consistency.” –Joacim

“I used to break the rules all the time, got away with it half the time…. Mostly nothing happens, teachers just say ‘Don’t do it again’ … but one time I got suspended.” –Krystal

“But then when there are consequences, they’re exaggerated, like I just got suspended for nothing, for supposedly violating the dress code.” –Norermys

“I was walking around in flip-flops and I got suspended. I saw this other kid with flip-flops on and nothing happened.” –Chris

“They should enforce the rules for everybody, not let some kids off just because they’re cool with them.” –Alessandra


Philadelphia Student Union members Jerehmia Jenkins (left) and Iyana Ali-Green. 


“Everyone learns differently. For example, some students work better when they can listen to music … some need quiet. Everybody learns at a different pace. If we look at that, I think we would have more efficient classes.” –Norermys

“If students don’t feel comfortable talking to the teachers and teachers don’t talk to students, then there will always be a problem. People need to learn to communicate.” –Krystal

“One teacher at my school, whenever problems seem to be developing, she has what she calls a ‘quizito’ – basically a survey to determine what students in the class are thinking.” –Gregory

“Mr. H. has a box in the class where you can put in your ideas or complaints.” –Chris

“School should be stricter. At my old school in Connecticut, if you missed more than 10  days, you lost all your credits…. The dress code, too – you couldn’t be showing too much skin…. Classrooms were stricter, teachers would enforce more rules on the kids.” –Alessandra

When teachers have a sense of humor, I think it really helps create a positive atmosphere. Except some teachers try too hard to be cool. We want teachers who are our friends but in a different way than other students are friends.” –Iyana

“There needs to be structure. At West every day for over a month, they had this morning routine reviewing the rules and expectations. It got really annoying, but it seemed to have an impact.” –Khalif

“There needs to be more hands-on learning.” –Shawanda

“We have rewards in some classes. Each class gets points on the board, and the class that gets the most points gets brownies.” –Alessandra

“Give extra attention [to students who are behind and acting out] to get them caught up.” –Chris

“Put the kids who are having trouble with kids who can do their work and help them.” –Joacim

“At my old school, we stayed with the same group of teachers from one year to another. It really worked well, and we didn’t have the same behavior problems.” –Alessandra

Khalif Dobson (left) and Eric Yates at the PSU office.


About the Author

The discussions were facilitated by retired teacher Ron Whitehorne and teachers Tricia Fussaro of Spring Garden Elementary, and Jim Hardy and Jonny Rashid of Kensington Culinary.

Photos by Ron Whitehorne and Javier Morris.

Comments (9)

Submitted by Gemma (not verified) on January 3, 2010 10:51 am

Every teacher needs to follow the same rules and every offense needs to be handled with the same discipline for all students. There is no room here for error, these are kids and teaching them about fairness is important. casino online

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on January 3, 2010 2:55 pm

The problem is that the teachers have no control over what punishment is handed out by the administration. The principals and VPs bend over backwards to avoid suspending kids. I had a boy I pinkslipped for getting out of his seat and smacking another kid in the face. No suspension. However, a couple of weeks later the same child threatened the same kid in the coat closet. My watcher said she hadn't seen anything so I told both of them to stay away from each other. The parents of the boy threatened showed up and finally got the troublemaker suspended for four days. If the administration had done that for the first offense there probably would have been no second incident. It took the parents coming in after the second incident to get the administrators to do something. If they hadn't come in I doubt if there would have been any suspension at all.

Submitted by The Mort Man (not verified) on January 4, 2010 5:18 pm

I mean zero disrespect to the kids, but how is what the kids are saying news? Kids have been saying the same dang things since the dawn of time.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on January 7, 2010 8:55 am

I find it amazing that students suggest that those who act out should get more attention and time -- if they refuse to cooperate and be a constructive part of the class, how is it the teacher's responsibility to make up for that time when it is the student's fault? Where is the accountability of the students and their families?

Submitted by bravedesk inaclassroom (not verified) on March 26, 2010 2:55 pm

who to the last anon. comment. have you never been a kid on the play ground that hit a girl you like. Well education is the same like the kids say they act out because the struggle with work. So to send them home from school only adds to the problem messes up their school records and make them so far behind the rest of the class that the next teacher will have an even harder time with that student. We must listen to the students how else do you expect to get results.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on September 17, 2010 6:47 pm

Some of these suggestions have been used such as putting weaker and stronger kids together. What often happens is that the weaker kid still cannot keep up and then decides to be disruptive. These students expect constant entertainment. Sometimes you have to learn to sit and listen. To the student complaining about having 2 minutes to write things down, i'm sure if he read the textbook he would see the same information the teacher wrote. These kids need to take responsibility for their own learning. They don't value education.

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