I’m guessing most people go through school, which means to some extent everyone has had interactions with teachers. Which means they know how authority works to some extent. There’s a push-pull to it, like with everything else. Sure, in college it’s well and good to have a friendly professor, and it is always nice to have someone to talk to on equal terms. In college, there’s a lot more room for equality between students and teachers because everyone is an adult. Still, some amount of dominance exists on the part of the teacher.
Take it back a few year, to high school, and suddenly things are much less equal. There are probably a couple teachers who treat students equally and are human with them. Most are probably as close to fair in terms of treatment and grades. But not all of them. Some people are just assholes. That’s unavoidable though—there are jerks in every social arena. Go even further back though. Middle school is often one of the hardest places for students to develop self-esteem not only because they are constantly being judged by their peers, but they also are too little to be taken extremely seriously by adults.
Most middle school kids are at the age where their mind has developed enough to recognize aspects of the world in a mature fashion, and even be able to comment on it critically to some extent. Unfortunately, they have not all developed enough to control themselves and act “maturely” in all social dynamics. This means a lot more name calling and acting out during class. I recall my own life in middle school, where I was a quiet outsider. I would watch kids laugh loudly at others, be self-centered, and not respect rules. Some of them were just as unruly and degenerate as that sounds. But many of them were not actually these kinds of people. They were smart individuals—and if you took the time to get to know them, they were actually quite nice people.
Of course, in class, if a student acts out they are disruptive and a general “bad” person. At least in the eyes of many teachers and certainly most administrators. Dial back a few more years to elementary school, where students only partially understand the rules. Or rather, they understand the rules, but only have enough self restraint to adhere to them part of the time. The disruptive ones get labeled immediately as “problem” children. Which is depressing, because they rarely actually are “problems” and rather do not have the cognitive understanding to control themselves fully. But many teachers punish this harshly, rather than find an outlet for it. By punishing students, the teachers create a dynamic in which the student feels like a failure—much like with grades. This categorization of students leads to repetitive expectations, and becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.
The question then arises, how do you deal with a “disruptive” student at this young of an age group and still teach material? My favorite plan was one that my third grade teacher gave me as an option. I used to have a bit of trouble keeping myself still as a kid, though I don’t recall ever acting out. My teacher’s solution for this was to give me the option to run out to the playground, hit the tetherballs, and come back. No supervision, no warning, just “whenever you feel anxious or unable to keep yourself still, go ahead and do this.” That gave me power as a little kid. I could get up and leave! It was simple. It was reassuring. And most of all, it made me feel like a real person. So many students get lost as people because they are so busy being students. And its easier to let them fall behind as people to get the job done. But it is more meaningful to society as a whole if we take the time to remind people that they are not less of a person because they have a different biological make-up than “normal” students.