School Climate & Safety

So You Hate Your Students ...

By Ross Brenneman — June 28, 2013 3 min read
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Mr. Liggett: “Alright, Lightman. Maybe you could tell us who first suggested the idea of reproduction without sex."David Lightman: “Umm ... Your wife?”
—"WarGames” (1983)

A lot of commenters here at Education Week note that a key component of student success is a warm, welcoming atmosphere. Common sense would agree. And when such an atmosphere exists, great! Aces!

But many teachers also have that student, the one that makes their professional lives unbearable. It’s a common refrain in entertainment, from the aforementioned “WarGames” to “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” to the recent Amazon pilot “Those Who Can’t,” which I profiled over at the Teaching Now blog. Adolescents can already behave badly enough to each other, but what happens when the bad blood exists between educator and pupil?

This is all plenty real, too.

There’s the Duncansville, Texas, student, Jeff Bliss, who became an Internet sensation in the education world after his videotaped rant against work packets assigned by his teacher.

There’s the Pennsylvania teacher suspended in 2011 for excoriating students on her personal blog. “Seems smarter than she actually is,” wrote Natalie Munroe of one of her students. The school board fired her for performance reasons, or, as the cynical would say, “performance reasons.”

And then this: New York teacher Christine Rubino, following the drowning death of a student at a different New York City school, wrote on Facebook, “After today, I am thinking the beach sounds like a wonderful idea for my 5th graders! I HATE THEIR GUTS! They are the devils (sic) spawn!” A hearing officer recommended her firing, before a state trial court and an appellate court both supported Rubino’s assertion that she was still fit to teach.

But, awkward, right?

Teachers are the front line of school climate, no matter how involved administrators or parents might be. Sixty or more minutes a day, five days a week, students and teachers spend time together. And when a teacher hands out discipline, there are going to be students who complains about being constant targets. At some point, a student is going to strike a nerve. How do you respond?

We asked you on Twitter what you do when you just can’t stand a student, or when you know a student doesn’t like you. What I expected was a lot of “stay professional,” and, naturally, there was a lot of that. But after 180 days, that advice can be a little underwhelming. What else do teachers out there say?

First, figure out the problem:

High school English teacher Dionne Nichols similarly stated that it’s important to do some self examination. But when she doesn’t like a student, she looks for redeeming qualities to focus on, or attempts to see “if misbehavior is a cover/shield for misunderstanding the lesson, [a] disability, rotten home life, etc.”

Some teachers, meanwhile, don’t really care, because there are bigger fish to fry:

If you do want to engage a student, though, there are a couple proactive steps:

And stay the course:

It might seem like obvious stuff, but then you see those stories on the news about teachers bashing students through social media, at which point it stops being a personal problem, and starts being a professional one—for everyone.

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Rules for Engagement blog.