December 4 — 12:55 pm, 2009

Students speak out on teacher-student conflict

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.


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