Growing up, I was taught by those who raised me that we should treat each other with respect. The Golden Rule, treat others the way you would want to be treated, always came up in these conversations. I try to live by this rule as much as I can, although I fall short from time to time like everyone else. So many adults drummed the Golden Rule into my head as a child that I just assumed it was universally followed. It was, after all, a Golden Rule.

Now that I am sitting in different classrooms, learning how teachers  interact with their students, I have noticed that the Golden Rule is not being followed by everyone. You probably think that I am referring to the students and you are partially right. I have seen students be disrespectful to their teachers countless times, both when I was a high-school student and now that I am observing classes. In high school I assumed that students deserved their punishment when the teacher deemed them “disrespectful”. My upbringing taught me to respect both the Golden Rule and authority. However, I now see that this outlook was based on certain assumptions, assumptions that failed to consider the antecedents of certain disrespectful student behaviors.

My classroom observations have been teaching me that some teachers are not following the Golden Rule, even though they insist their students follow it. If a teacher demands respect, they should also show some level of respect in return. Even though students know of the Golden Rule when it comes to their teachers, it gets difficult for them follow if some of those teachers do not model that behavior. There have been instances when I lost respect for a teacher because they showed little consideration toward their students when addressing them. I was conditioned to just let it slide because, if I got into an argument, I felt there was no way for me to win. However, not all students will let an insult pass by without them having a say about it. This usually ends in an argument with the teacher. If a teacher says that students have to respect them and the rest of the class, but then the teacher calls them names, makes them feel stupid or perhaps insults them out of frustration, how can a teacher expect respect in return?

Students are human beings with feelings, even though they may not always understand those feelings. If they feel as if they have been debased, they usually answer back in kind. This is by no means a justification for poor student behavior, just a call for some empathy. How would you react if you were told that what you did was dumb, even though you were not taught how to do it? How would you react if you were constantly put down instead of being encouraged to constantly to do your best? How would you react if your culture was insulted in any way, shape or form, intentionally or not? If it was one adult saying these kinds of things to another adult, there would be an argument between them. Even though teachers are supposed to have authority, some students will not allow a teacher to insult them, especially in front of the entire class. They will speak up and possibly insult the teacher in return. One also has to take into account the fact that students usually close ranks when a teacher insults one of them, especially if the insult has to do with one’s culture and/or values. This diminishes the teacher’s authority and makes it difficult to maintain control of the class.

Yes, unfortunately I have seen such situations in the time I have been observing classrooms. In an era when NYC teachers have virtually no recourse in disciplining unruly students, the only authority at their disposal is moral authority. It is tough to see how a teacher can make it to June without it.

Even though I have seen teachers who say things to insult students, this certainly is not the norm. The majority of the teachers I have had, and the majority of the teachers I have known throughout my life, generally followed the Golden Rule even when their students did not. Furthermore, I believe the times I have seen teachers lose control of themselves was when they were frustrated, a point all human beings reach from time to time. Perhaps the teacher felt that saying something shocking or especially mean was the only way to get their students’ attention.

A teacher should not let their frustrations drive their actions because it may end up alienating their students completely, reducing the influence they exercise in the classroom. This has the potential to create a vicious cycle of frustration and alienation, each feeding off the other and making it progressively harder for the teacher to have effective classroom management. From my perspective, it is easy for me to talk about the Golden Rule because I have yet to be charged with controlling a classroom. In a way, I am grateful for the opportunity to witness these candid classroom moments. They have taught me much about the dynamics of student behavior. There is value in learning what to avoid when I start my own career.

One thing this has taught me is that the classroom is a reflection of the teacher. It is ironic to learn all of these theories in college that take the view that the teacher who teaches best teaches least. Since classrooms take on the personality of their teachers, does this mean that the teacher who teaches least has students who learn the least? Is this not also a manifestation of the Golden Rule?

For now, it seems as if the Golden Rule is the only pedagogical theory that holds water.

3 responses to “THE GOLDEN RULE

  1. It isn’t easy to have & display a constant respect for a large group of teenagers. After over 12 years in the classroom, I’ve come to the conclusion that that’s one of the main reasons why teaching isn’t an easy job. But if you can’t understand that your role is to be the one person in the class who follows this rule, then maybe (just maybe) this isn’t the job for you.

    But I should also say that taking that to extreme (to the point where the investigators come and you lose your job for uttering one singular word) isn’t the correct path either.

    • I completely agree with you in that if a teacher is not willing to be the only one who follows the Golden Rule, then teaching might not be for him/her. I also understand that teachers are human beings and that there can be a moment of frustration when their students are unruly and I do not think that is a basis for having a teacher under investigation. However, when a teacher constantly insults, degrades, yells, or targets their students for something trivial, which does not necessarily mean student misbehavior, then that should be investigated because it is occurring constantly and arbitrarily.

  2. Thank you so much for this! We are Atheists and my son is in Boy Scouts. He has to complete a “Duty to God” assignment from his Handbook. One of them is to choose a prayer or meditation to share with the group. So we chose the Golden Rule and I printed out this poster for him to show that it applies to many different religions around the world. Thanks again!

Assail me some more by leaving a comment:

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s