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When Home Undoes School

August 13, 2017 in In the Classroom - No Comments

When Home Undoes School

August 13, 2017 in In the Classroom - No Comments

I’m not sure how teachers can be successful at teaching children things like manners and respect when all too often they are taught the exact opposite at home.

Take my neighbours for example – a nice little family of two parents and three children.

The children are all in primary school, and all of them swear. Parents and children alike swear in conversation, at each other, in anger and in jest. The dad threatens to ‘bash’ or ‘smash’ them when he gets really angry.

How am I supposed to tell their children at school (who I don’t teach, for the record), that swearing is wrong, when their parents are reinforcing the opposite at home? What about rudeness and insolence? What about violence and abuse? How can I, a mere teacher, correct these behaviours when that’s what is normal at home?

As teachers, we are expected to teach and raise students to good members of society. We are supposed to correct their poor behaviours and teach them good behaviours.

We run full, actual lessons on how to be a ‘good person’, how to be ‘kind’, how to ‘interact with your peers’. While all of these things are essential, important, and potentially beneficial, if they are not reinforced at home, how much impact do they have? (I would genuinely like to see research on this if anyone knows of any)

I know from first hand experience that treating students with kindness, above all else, changes their interactions with me. I’ve turned around some of the most difficult students to being on my side because of the relationships I’ve built. But I also know that doesn’t often extend to other people. The kindness, openness, and happiness they show me isn’t shown to other teachers, or to many of their peers.

I try my hardest to shape these young people into good people, but it’s so hard when they are clearly getting different messages in other places. I see my students for a maximum of 4 hours a week. There’s only so much character building I can do with them in that time. And it never feels like enough.

I know some of my students have parents who get angry at them for listening to the teacher or trusting authority figures; they beat them, abuse them. I know because they tell me. I know because the parents tell me themselves. Why on Earth would they continue to listen to me, to follow directions, to accept help, when they are told explicitly at home not to?

How can I teach a young man to treat women with respect when they see the exact opposite at home? How can I teach a young lady to respect herself?

Maybe I’m taking too much onto myself. It’s certainly not my job to ‘fix’ students, I know that. Technically, I’m employed to teach science and math classes, yet somehow it’s also my job to teach them things like manners, kindness, etc. At the same time as being told to teach my subjects, as a teacher I’m societally blamed for the negative outcomes of my students’ characters.

I don’t know what the answer is here. I don’t know how to do more than I am, but at the same time I feel like I’m not doing nearly enough. I don’t even know if I’m supposed to. I don’t know how to help them undo all the bad that happens outside my classroom.


Emily is a secondary science and math teacher in Australia. She enjoys sharing the real and human teacher life, facilitating the ‘light bulb’ moment in her students, and drinking tea and wine.

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  • Adam Hill August 13, 2017 at 5:55 pm

    Hi Emily,

    You have raised a really important issue (and a very common problem for teachers). Sadly, I can’t offer any answers either! I will follow this post with interest to see what others say. I like your example of swearing. Most teachers will be able to relate to this as an inconsistent message. Another common example is about responding to violence with violence. We’ve all heard from parents “If someone punches little Billy, I want him to punch back”. Very awkward to voice our disagreement and very difficult for the child to know the right thing to do!

    Thanks for raising this.


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