Respect is something that is cultivated over time and is not always given right away. If you are a new teacher, becoming accustomed to students who don’t respect you can throw you off. Here are 3 pieces of advice that may help you if you feel like you are not getting respect just because you are a student teacher.
I was a senior and completing a segment of my student teaching in an 8th grade science class. Despite feeling at home regarding the age group and content matter, I couldn’t reach all of the students I had been assigned. Most of the students saw me as a fresh face who, like my cooperating teacher, was fun and excited about what they were learning. There was one student in the 5th period class, right after lunch, who worked well with my cooperating teacher, but when I taught or assigned something, he completely ignored me.
On one particular day I was teaching, the student was slumped over and had no interest in my lesson over selective breeding. I tried to follow the best practices I had been taught and once the class had been assigned their work for that class period, I pulled him aside to talk to him. My cooperating teacher stood nearby to see how I handled the situation. I asked him, “Why aren’t you participating in class?” Then I heard the most troubling words during my student teaching, “I don’t respect you. You are not my teacher.”
I had not been prepared to hear a statement like that. I knew that I would have more student buy-in when I had my own classroom, but for a student to call out probably one of my biggest insecurities as a student teacher, I stood there speechless.
I don’t know what I would have done if my cooperating teacher hadn’t been there. She nicely told him that he had no business saying something like that to an adult, any adult. While she was talking to him, I had to step into her office (science teachers in middle school can have an office in the storage area) to collect my thoughts and regain my footing. After a few tears were shed, my cooperating teacher came to check on me. She had told me what she had told him, and eluded to that if he chose to do poorly to prove a point that was his choice, but he is not to disrespect anyone in the process. She also filled me in on the fact that his mom was VERY INVOLVED in his academic career, so he’d have to deal with the consequences from his mother with him not wanting to do his work.
What I should have done is give that conversation myself. Had I have known what to say, had a thicker skin, or wouldn’t have been the introverted individual I was at the time, I would have given the conversation my cooperating teacher did myself. It probably would have solidified myself as the authority figure I was supposed to be.
With that in mind here are three things I’d suggest if you think you may be dealing with a similar situation.
- Let your cooperating teacher know. Your cooperating teacher should be your strongest support system in the classroom. Ask his/her advice on how to handle the situation. What happened in my situation may not be applicable in yours. I was/am incredibly fortunate to have worked with my cooperating teacher, and I am still lucky because I continue to work with her. She is one of my closest friends and it is nice that we are still able to help each other.
- Talk to the student. While talking to the student in my case gave me an answer I didn’t want to hear, it cleared the air. I knew that I wasn’t a bad teacher for not engaging the class, it was a product of my circumstances. I tried not to dwell on what he said and told myself that when I do get my own classroom it would be better. When it comes to students, especially hormonal adolescents, it could be any number of reasons why they are not doing their work. Talking to them and making the effort shows you care about them and what is going on. The relationships you build will be the most important part of teaching.
- Don’t let students take your confidence. It takes a good amount of charisma to be an authority in a classroom and keep students engaged. If one student has a problem with you, don’t let that spook you out of an amazing profession. Start each day fresh and new, and as difficult as it may be to hold a grudge against that student, try not to. You are their role model of how adults act like and sound like and you can’t expect kids to always act like adults. Show them how we act.
I can also vouch that if you need help, talk to your professors or field evaluator. The team at UTA is beyond anything I could have asked for. They are here to help you and guide you to success.
Have you ever had a situation like this happen to you before? Do you think you might be experiencing something like this now? Have advice for other teachers? Share your stories in the comments below.
*Alison is a graduate of the UT Arlington mid-level certification program. To learn more about this program, click here.