Changing Expectations in a Challenging World
By NANCY PATRICK
Recognizing that the twenty-first century world differs greatly from the world I grew up in, I confess that I would find today’s school systems difficult to navigate. In the 1950s and 1960s during my school years, we respected teachers as role models in our society. I fearfully admired my teachers and would never have disobeyed them or caused any trouble in their classrooms.
I fondly remember some of my high school English teachers: Mrs. Ligon, Mrs. Endsley, and Mr. Springer at Abilene High. I never knew their first names, and I was shocked when I saw them at the grocery stores. I thought of them as having super-normal lives—not having to buy groceries, do laundry, or clean the bathrooms.
As a matter of fact, I feel sure they never had to bear hug a pugnacious teenage girl from the back to stop her pummeling her adversary as I did. As I struggled to maintain my hold, I repeatedly said, “Don’t hit me. Don’t hit me. I’m a teacher.” I’m not sure that worked as a deterrent in a modern high school.
I entered the teaching profession as a calling rather than a job. School had enriched my life so much that I wanted to pass along to my students the same confidence, knowledge, and motivation to succeed that my education had given me.
No one questioned school discipline in my generation. My peers and I knew that if our teachers reported a problem to our parents, that meant trouble at home. We didn’t really question rules so much in those days.
We had a strict dress code that required girls to wear dresses or skirts. Our hems had to touch the floor when we knelt. No one even thought about telling us to dress modestly (no low necklines or tightly fitting garments); modesty was expected and required, and we honored that expectation.
I honestly do not recall misbehavior in my classrooms—certainly not defiance of teachers’ and administrators’ authority. By the time I began my teaching career in the 1970s, school discipline had become a problem. We had gone through the cultural revolution of the ’60s and ’70s with the issues of gender, relaxed sexual mores, and drug abuse.
Some of my students used foul language and openly disregarded school rules. Some parents questioned teachers’ judgment regarding their children’s behavior, condoning a less respectful attitude toward authority.
Another major shift in the interaction between the school and the home involves the subject of communication. Today’s youth and their parents feel the need to have immediate and constant communication with each other. Cell phones, with all their capabilities, have made teaching more difficult than in the past. Some teachers have tried confiscating phones in the classroom but have encountered anger from both students and parents by doing so.
In my student days, the school office had all the students’ schedules on file. If parents needed to contact us, they called the office and an office assistant brought the message to our classroom. We couldn’t have imagined cell phones back then.
Society today expects so much from our school systems. In many districts, a majority of students qualify for free or reduced lunches. The schools not only provide lunches but also breakfasts to these students every day. Although provision of food is a wonderful and generous act, this responsibility used to fall to the family or social services, not the school.
Some schools also provide after school care for children who have no place to go at the end of the school day. Because unsupervised children can be dangerous to themselves and others, many children find themselves in trouble with the law because they get pulled into situations with other children in the same situation.
Many people believe preparing students for college is the job of the school district. Ideally, that would be true, but when we consider the overall social influence on young people today, we realize that students spend a tiny fraction of their time with their teachers compared to the amount of influence from fractured families, substance abuse, homelessness, poverty, violence, extracurricular activities, and media. These other influences unfairly compete with the schools for the students’ attention.
These social problems include issues such as bullying and school violence. Students spending seven hours a day in school does not mean the school systems can fix these problems. Their sources reach much further than what happens in school.
In fact, the social environment in many schools exacerbates bullying and violence. Social media contributes greatly to these problems. Some people see the internet as a way to air their grievances with no accountability because of the anonymity the internet can provide.
So, what should we expect of our teachers? We should expect them to be educated and competent in their fields. We should expect them to be kind and respectful to our children (their students). We should expect them to behave professionally and ethically and set reasonable standards for students.
However, expecting teachers to be counselors, ministers, confidants, parents, mentors, and police officers is unrealistic. Teachers constantly assume duties other than academic duties, and they receive little to no remuneration for the efforts they put into these duties.
Today’s public schools and teachers are under such scrutiny that approaching teaching as a calling or ministry is impractical—maybe even unconstitutional. Rather than providing a safe haven and source of inspiration for students as it was in my life, schools have had to become fortified institutions where security must take precedence over education.
Nancy Patrick is a retired teacher who lives in Abilene and enjoys writing
WOW! This article is spot on!! Everything you wrote is absolutely true and unfortunately it is continuing to get worse. I love you and love your articles. Keep them coming!!