Talking back to teachers: where to draw the line

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By Hanna Kim and Tyler Kwon

According to page 22 of the Parent-Student Handbook, students must “maintain a good attitude towards teachers, administrative directors, other staff members, and comply with all reasonable requests from adult staff members.”

However, what sounds reasonable and fair in theory is more complicated in practice because those are often subjective terms. Teachers are the ones who determine what constitutes a “good attitude” and “reasonable requests.” And as teachers are human, they are subject to emotions and pre-existing opinions just like students. Thus, the indignant student may not be judged on fair grounds. This presents what we have phrased the “Defiant Student Dilemma” (DSD).

Let’s face it, having been trained in education for years, teachers almost always know what’s best for their students.

However, there are unfortunate cases when a teacher may lose sight of a student’s best interests. In these cases, students can choose to either argue for what they believe to be correct and suffer punishment on the basis of defiance, or stay quiet, unpunished, yet ignored.

Many of us have been faced with DSD multiple times throughout our education. Taking into account the consequences of “inappropriate behavior,” which can range anywhere from a student-teacher conference to class suspension, many students choose to hold their tongues rather than express their dissatisfaction.

While all students should maintain a strong respect for their teachers, we cannot help but wonder whether entrusting teachers with authority in such a subjective matter will always guarantee fair and proper treatment.

Just as there are days when teenagers might feel moody and disruptive, there are also days when teachers might experience such emotions. In the moment of a student-teacher confrontation, emotional vulnerability is not a result of raging hormones, but a result of the natural human response to the lemons that life hurls at us.

When we choose to stay quiet after a teacher’s accusations even when we believe that we are in the right, we not only accept the teacher’s potential disregard, but we condone the perception that high schoolers do not deserve the same respect and understanding that adults receive.

While our society may call this dynamic “respect for one’s elders,” we believe that high school students are entitled to the opportunity to speak their minds without the fear of being reprimanded, provided they do so with respect.

In an ideal world, the relationship between a teacher and a student is a beautiful one: the student is eager to learn while the teacher is eager to teach. But in the current reality, where students have had to adapt to increasingly unrealistic expectations and teachers find it harder and harder to motivate those who are unable or unwilling to keep up, we cannot expect such a luxury.

The solution to DSD lies in schools fostering an environment in which students and teachers are treated as equals. We, students, may be hormonal, inconsistent, and irresponsible at times, but we are also passionate, determined, and growing adults who are smarter than most give us credit for.

As high school students, we not only deserve to be treated like mature individuals, but we also deserve to spend our days in a learning environment that promotes questioning and curiosity. Therefore, it is essential that teachers and students alike begin to work towards relationships defined by trust, courtesy, and understanding as opposed to blind obedience and limited freedom of expression.

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