George Lucas Educational Foundation
Social and Emotional Learning

Teachers Need to Follow Their Own Rules

June 10, 2014 Updated May 20, 2014
Photo credit: Thinkstock

Somebody recently said to me, “I can’t believe the way they misbehave and the lack of respect they show. They talk on their phones, text, and talk while I talk, and they ignore each other, come in late, leave early, and have no patience for those who disagree.”

Who was this person, and who was he or she talking about?

  • A teacher talking about her students?
  • A principal talking about her faculty?
  • An in-service presenter talking about teachers attending the training?
  • A college professor of education talking about his class of pre-service teachers?

The sad truth is you can’t tell. Too many students, faculties, and education students all behave the same way—not all individuals, of course, but it only takes several individuals within each group to be disruptive. I remember once giving an in-service training session in a city in northern Ohio. The participants sat at tables, and the five men at one table were all reading the newspaper during the training. Normally I’m not bothered by participants’ behavior when I train in schools. Some are learning while knitting, doodling, or softly talking to their neighbors. And if they’re not learning, there’s nothing I can do to force them. That table of men particularly bothered me because I felt they were setting a terrible example to the others—they were all principals. What a terrible message they sent to their faculties.

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Behavior Follows Values

To be honest, had cell phones existed while I was a seventh-grade teacher, I might have been tempted to text during a boring faculty meeting. But not anymore. Those of you who are familiar with my work or have read any of my recent posts know how strongly I believe that we behave according to our values. Sidney B. Simon, my professor in my doctoral program and one of the authors of Values Clarification, taught me many years ago that your choices of behavior are among the best indicators of your true values. If this is so, what do we learn about the values of pre-service and in-service teachers who violate their own rules?

Students Understand a Lot More Than We Realize

Many behavior problems that teachers face in their classrooms come from students who quickly see whether or not their teachers value appropriate behavior. The most disruptive students are often the ones who best intuitively understand when teachers are hypocritical as they try to enforce rules that they obviously don’t follow themselves.

Shouldn’t Adults Have Different Behavior Standards Than Children?

When I raise this issue with educators, I often hear, “But we’re adults. Rules are different for us. We can drive, drink, and smoke, and kids can’t.” These are not rules as much as they are privileges. And if you want the right to behave differently than children, you can do so. Just get a job where you don’t influence children.

Two Behavior Changes

I recommend two changes for those educators who need them:

  1. Follow your own rules in all professional situations. These include your own classrooms as well as meetings, trainings, and courses. Be on time, dress professionally, put your smartphones and newspapers away, and don’t disrupt others. One other recommendation: Never ask a question as time is running out—make sure your class ends on time.

  2. Be a good role model for your students. Never do anything to a child that you don’t want them to do to others. Children learn to be adults by watching adults. Think carefully about the way you intervene with student misbehavior and ask yourself, “Do I want this child saying or doing what I’m about to say or do to another child or adult?” If you yell, “Get out,” imagine the student yelling the same thing to another child on the playground.

It’s hard to work with children, and our professional standards are high. However, if a rule is too hard for you to follow, think of how hard it must be for a child.

How do you consciously teach by example? Please share in the comments section below.

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Filed Under

  • Social and Emotional Learning
  • Character Education
  • Classroom Management
  • Teacher Leadership
  • All Grades