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Treat Students Like Adults?


Apparently this is treat-kids-like-adults week on Motivation Matters because today, I'm going to point your attention to this editorial, "High schools shouldn't treat students like babies," on the Detroit News. The author of this opinion piece, Michael Williamson, specifically talks about issues that relate to Detroit students, but some of the changes he suggests are systemic in nature, rather than regional, so I thought it was worth noting. One particular point he made is something I've heard a lot of educators talk about recently. He says:

Don't create a "sit down and listen" model that replicates the classroom of today. Do foster a model of academic endeavor that encourages sociability, social integration, team work, personal responsibility and independence. Take high school to the streets and the marketplace. Integrate young people back into the community. Treat them as apprentice adults.

Doing away with the "sit down and listen" model requires a shift in the definition of a teacher from the "holder and disseminator of knowledge" to the "facilitator of learning," which is something that I've heard over and over again from educators, especially those who have embraced new forms of technology and integrated them into the classroom. With the rise of the Web, it's easy for students to find information on their own. They don't need teachers to supply them with facts and figures since that information is already available at the tip of students' fingertips. The role of the teacher, then, becomes more focused on keeping students engaged, helping them focus their ideas, and giving them the guidance, knowledge, and resources they need to follow through with those ideas.

Williamson's point also coincides nicely with the idea of engaging students by giving them hands-on, relevant curriculum--the hope being that if students are interested in what they are learning about, they will be more motivated to study and understand it.

What do you think? Do you see the role of the teacher changing in your school, or has it generally stayed the same? What obstacles might arise from this potential shift? What benefits?


I Have been teaching high school English for the last 15 years. Five years prior to this I taught Chapter/Title I - helping those with reading, writing and math difficulties. In my English classes (both Regents and Honors) I find that I can teach just about anything that is ability appropriate and about which I am completely passionate. I tell my Honors students that I would like to run literary discussions as I have experienced in and out of college. I tell my Regents students that I would like to run my classes as I do my honors classes. Seldom, very seldom have I dealt with a student turned off by my first day of school challenge. On discussion days there is someone to get the coffeemaker going and students are ready to converse about literature read the night before. Can I get as passionate about grammar? No - but I give it my all and am honest in my assessment of its need. I never accept a first draft of anything and allow them to edit my own writing in the form of young adult novels. I love teaching.

So, why am I retiring this June? I would like to wear a t-shirt with the response, "It's not the kids..."
I am finding, more and more, a diminished quality of administrators - those more concerned with hiring 'drinking buddies' and very attractive women - sometimes one-in-the-same. I have watched my English department fall into the hands of a department chair who has denied an excellent teacher the honors classes she has previously taught because she refused to have a drink with him. She has been called names that, in private industry, would have certainly sent the perpetrator back into the job market. This man is very good friends with administrators and feels emboldened to behave as such. So, while I am passionate about what I teach I am forced to fight for every challenging book longer than 100 pages. I continue to believe that challenging students with meaningful literature and writing responses along with a truthfulness regarding the need for quality communication is the highest form of compliment. Helping students focus their ideas and finding out, via their writing, just what those ideas mean is teaching. Sadly, I have administrators who have little idea of the communication process.
Sadly too, I retire.

This is what many homeschoolers believe and do. Right now there are many people who think parents should have a teaching degree to teach their own children. Schools full of degrees are failing and many schools are attempting to create a more at home and in the society type of classroom. It is funny how often the social skills questions come up in discussions of homeschooling while many acknowledge that the social skills our youth are learning in our highschool are not helpful or positive.

I think it's telling that we are challenged to find some middle ground between babies and adults.

Why is it that treating someone like an adult is synonymous with treating them like they have some sense? Adults shoot themselves in the foot with this, because it perpetuates the stereotype that young people are incapable of acting in a relatively mature, age-appropriate manner.

Instead of treating kids like this or that, how about we treat them with respect? With dignity and courtesy? That seems like a pretty safe bet.

I think that there needs to be some sort of happy-medium when it comes to how we treat students. Yes, students should be (and are, in my classroom) treated with respect, but that doesn't mean that they can do whatever they want, whenever they want. The teacher, unfortunately, has to also teach the students how to behave in society which takes away from the time that they have to facilitate lessons.

I think that the culture of the school really dictates how a teacher is able to teach. I would *love* to give my students health topics to research and guide them through the process of learning, but the other teachers do not do this, which causes a lot of flak when I am trying to get my students to do more than what is just "required" of them. We are, at my school, teaching our students that the only thing that matters are the "points" or the "grade" -- the learning is not the focus -- something that I am trying desperately to change in my classroom, but that is constantly thwarted by the culture of the school.

We need to teach our students to be responsible individuals, never mind whether they are children or adults. They must understand the basics of everything before they can move into the advanced program -- whether that is in school, or in life. Treat them as you see them, and help them to learn what it takes to move on to the next level.

Personal responsibility is the key -- if a student wants to be treated in a certain way, then they must show they are ready for the consequences of that. We are spending too much time coddling and not enough time teaching.

I agree with parts of what has been previously stated by others, but have to say that not every student is mature enough to handle being treated like quote "an Adult". I'm not saying coddle them, but like everything in life their has to be a happy medium. Children learn, develop and grow at different rates and until academics is geared this way too, there will continue to be issues with education. There are way too many schools out there living to please the staff and only doing what is the easiest for the staff; allowing students to fall through the cracks or just slide by to get their education. This to me is truly sad!

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