Changes can begin in our homes

Vicki Westling’s commentary (July 30) on the decline of values in our society is right on.

As a former middle school and high school teacher, I was amazed at the behavior of some of my students. I began teaching in the public school system when I was in my late 40s and was not prepared for the disrespect and poor classroom behavior I encountered.

However, I found that I could almost always trace it back to the parents, as in the mother who defended her daughter’s right to call me a liar or the mother who said her son would not be capable of cheating – though I caught him red-handed. Or how about the young lady I gave detention to and her father relentlessly badgered me until I rescinded it. Conversely, I had some amazing students with wonderfully supportive parents and it is these students who made teaching, in the end, worthwhile and so rewarding.

Gone are the days when teachers can take for granted that they will be supported and respected. Nowadays, it frequently boils down to the teacher’s word against the student’s. For a teacher to always have to be on the defensive shifts the balance of power in the favor of the students which, in turn, causes problems in the classroom.

Many parents, rather than supporting the teacher and trusting in his/her intentions to do well by their child, instead denigrate the teacher. How is a student going to respect a teacher when his parents make every effort to undermine that teacher’s authority and character? No, teachers are not perfect but the majority of them care deeply about their students and look to the parents for additional support in this teaching process, which may include some behavior correction.

My fourth year I taught with a young woman who had taught in France and was teaching her first year in the United States. She was accustomed to respect in the classroom. She came to me more than once after difficult classes and said: “I am nothing to these students. They don’t respect me at all.”

She was an excellent teacher but was unable to deal with her disrespectful students and left after her first year. I wonder how many good teachers leave because they do not wish to spend all their time trying to maintain classroom control instead of doing what they were trained to do: teach.

I had very few parents say to me: “Do what you have to do. You’re the teacher. I support you.” Students know just what to say to make the teacher look like an ogre. It is the wise parent who sees through that and insists that his/her child accept responsibility for whatever classroom or school rule that was broken. The parents and teacher should be united for the sake of the child. That, however, requires mutual trust, respect and cooperation.

Along with the decline of values comes the decline of morals as reflected in the glut of easily accessible internet porn, TV depictions of sadistic killings, situations and deviant behavior as well as reality shows where the more outrageous and inappropriate the actions, the better. How many parents know (or care) what their kids are viewing?

Children are daily being bombarded by inappropriate material that shapes the kind of people they are as well as the kind of adults they will become while their parents watch from the sidelines and hope for the best.

I think all parents should regularly watch the “Andy Griffith Show” and, as Vicki mentions, “Leave It To Beaver” so that they are reminded of what responsible parenting involves. Of course, in that generation parents did not face the complicated situations we now face but that’s not the point. They were dedicated parents who had expectations for their children, helped their children to make the right choices and yet allowed them to learn from their mistakes. Above all, they modeled good behavior.

Our children are our most precious resource and they deserve our best. Perhaps it would do well to ask ourselves from time to time: What would Andy do?

Christine Jacobson is a Fredonia resident.