aha moment, Be the change, Passion, student choice, student voice

5 Rules We Impose on Students that Would Make Adults Revolt


I remember the first time I walked through a silent school, the quiet hallways, the shut doors.  You would think it was testing season, but no, simply a school going about its day. At first I felt in awe; what order, what control, what focus!  Yet that night, as I shared my story with my husband, I realized something; schools aren’t mean to be silent.  They are filled with kids after all.  Quiet sure, but silent, no.  Yet here this school was; silent, and all I could think about was; why?  So what things are we expecting students to do that we would probably not submit to as adults?

Expect them to work hard all day with few breaks.  I could not do the schedule of my 7th graders; five 45 minute classes, then 30 minute lunch, then 3 more classes.  In between those classes?  3 minutes to get from one place to the next.  And high expectations everywhere they go.  We assume that they can just do it because we were subjected to the same, because the classes are all different, because this is not that bad, but as adults we would never be asked to sit focused, giving our best, and problem-solving for such long periods without taking small brain breaks, stretches, or in some other way reigniting our focus.  I know we do it so that we can fit everything in, but it still amazes me that we think it is is a good system.

Silent hallways.  Or most of the times we force silence when it is not for studying.  Of course, there needs to be quiet in the hallways while learning happens, but silent hallways – not needed.  Neither are silent lines, silent lockers, or silent lunch rooms.  Quiet and respectful can include talking.  Once, when I asked why my 5th graders had to be silent while they got ready for lunch, I was told it was in order to speed them up, apparently talking slows them down.  On the surface that may be a great reason, we want them to get to lunch sooner.  BUT.  These kids have just spent how many hours being told when to speak, not being allowed to speak to their friends, and now we tell them they have to be silent for longer?  As adults, we speak to our colleagues as we walk down the hallway, in fact, sometimes more loudly than the students.  We get to where we need to go just fine, often with a better focus because we got to relax for a minute.

Only go to the bathroom during breaks.  I remember telling my students that they had better use their lunch breaks to go to the bathroom because we didn’t have time the rest of the day.  Then I got pregnant and the whole idea of planned bathroom breaks imploded.  Yes, there are good times to leave the classroom and bad times, and yes, some kids will use the bathroom to get out of class because they are bored, tired, or want to simply get out.  So what?  To ask students to only go certain times, serves little purpose other than to establish teacher control.  Going to the bathroom can be just  the brain break a child needs to come back awake.  We use it all of the time as adults, why need trust students to do the same?

Do hours of homework.  I have long been an opponent of meaningless homework.  My severe distaste is based on many things, but one of them is that we have just asked students to put in a full day of hard work with us in the classroom.  Now, we are asking them to work even more outside of school.  Yes, some jobs require work outside of work hours, hello teaching, but not all, and often those jobs are by choice.  However, when we ask students for several hours more of their time, no matter our intentions, after they have gives us their best in class, we are treading on dangerous territory.  Why would students want to give us their best in school if we simply ask them to do more after?  I expect my students to work hard, use their time well, and get work done with me.  Yes, there is sometimes homework, no I am not perfect either, but I do think long and hard before I assign anything.

Be ready to show mastery on the same day.  This one took a while for me to realize.  You see, it doesn’t matter that you taught the concept at the same time; kids learn at different rates.  We know this intimately as adults; what may take our friend a day to understand, may take us a week or more.  Nowhere is that more apparent than in college where some students seem to study for weeks, while others breeze through the same material, ready for the test.  So why we expect our students to show mastery on the same day I will never understand.  Obviously it makes sense from a management perspective; it is hard to manage 113 students on different learning journeys.  It is also coming from a completion standpoint; the end of the quarter is the end of the quarter.  Yet research upon research shows us just how crazy this notion is, so why do we keep pushing it for it?  We need fluid mastery to serve our students best.

What other rules have you encountered?  Why do we do this to kids?

I am a passionate teacher in Oregon, Wisconsin, USA,  who has taught 4th, 5th, and 7th grade.  Proud techy geek, and mass consumer of incredible books. Creator of the Global Read Aloud Project, Co-founder of EdCamp MadWI, and believer in all children. I have no awards or accolades except for the lightbulbs that go off in my students’ heads every day.  First book “Passionate Learners – Giving Our Classrooms Back to Our Students” can be purchased now from Powerful Learning Press.   Second book“Empowered Schools, Empowered Students – Creating Connected and Invested Learners” is out now from Corwin Press.  Follow me on Twitter @PernilleRipp.

26 thoughts on “5 Rules We Impose on Students that Would Make Adults Revolt”

  1. I agree… Mostly. Yet I also think as being children- some of learning is simply learning balance and control of yourself. We are quiet in the hall simply out of respect for other classes who are trying to learn. We don’t switch/go to lunch all at the same time so beig quiet in the hall is needed for our friends who aren’t quite finished with their lesson. As far as the bathroom as a class, sadly we have experienced several instances of having to replace whole urinals due to students (Surely only one or two at most) placing random things in them, standing on them, and general playing. I understand your overall point of your post just saying it isn’t always that simple. Loud learning is great… But so are quiet halls. Balance.

    1. I agree with quiet, it is silence I don’t agree with it. We absolutely have to model respect and being respectful toward others, but we don’t need silence to do that. In fact, I think it is a bigger lesson to teach students how to speak in areas where quiet is needed than just imposing one blanket rule.

      1. Indeed, the balance comes in the volume level, not in the number of words. We as Ts need to be careful how we define positive characteristics for the Ss.

  2. Teaching EFL at the elementary level in China, I see all 5 of these rules daily in place. We have 40min periods w/ 10min breaks. Most of the Ss rush to the restrooms. The hallways aren’t the quietest, but we are a K-12 school so diff levels have varying schedules. Homework & mastery are 2 whole other ballparks to discuss. 😀

  3. Just observe administrators and policy-makers during education work sessions, meetings, and conferences. They text, stare at their phones, talk to one another, walk in and out, etc during speeches and sessions. It would be fun for teachers to hold a day-long session for them, imposing the rules they recommend for out students (including our systems of consequences.)

  4. I teach high school, and I’ve not yet figured out why we’re so enamored of early start times for adolescents. I know I wouldn’t do well trying to learn about factors that led to World War II in a history class at 7:35 AM. The neuroscience doesn’t support the effectiveness of that schedule for teens, either, but we do it so they can avoid missing class for athletics and work later in the day? Because of those responsibilities, most of my students put in 12 hour days (or more), and then have homework to do afterwards. Yikes. I actually don’t have a problem with expecting reading or out-of-class work from high school students, but it becomes a near-impossible burden if we expect hours of athletics and after-school jobs to fit into their schedules, too.

  5. Pernille, you always have great insights, but this one particularly hits home for me. The bottom line is whether or not you see students as subservient or if you see them as little adults under your guidance.

    I am sure with your change to middle school this is even more important. Most of my experience was with grades 2 – 5. Still, having conversations that convey respect and ending the long list of often unnecessary rules are great things to show compassion, trust and demonstrate that you value self-management. I often wonder if PBIS is used because our curriculum is boring, and we need to learn over how to be positive. PBIS seems to go too far…but there are good ideas there.

    Love Becca’s comments.

  6. This is what causes me huge anxiety every day. I send my kids to school but I don’t believe it to be a health place to be. Between the lack of breaks, and forced sedentariness it is not only handicapping a child’s ability to learn, but is an environment that promotes psychological issues like depression and anxiety.

    My kindergartner goes to school half day and has no daily scheduled recess and thus no play time. My second grader has a total of 30 minutes of recess and 20 minutes of lunch, but frequently 10 – 20 minutes of it is taken up in standing in line for lunch or transition, often leaving the kids less than 10 minutes to eat, and far less time to play then they are technically allotted. On rainy days (we live near Seattle so this is often) their recess are structured games in an outdoor play structure that involve standing in line and being quiet to listen to instructions.

    When I mention this to their teachers and principal they agree that it is a problem but say there is nothing they can do between curriculum requirements and logistics. The ironic thing is that the school counselor sent home a letter outlining the symptoms of chronic stress with recommendations to alleviate them being relaxation, play and physical activity. For my kids the chronic stress comes from the behavior expectations of school, but what about kids whose home lives are even more stressful. 😦

    Overall it makes me feel frustrated and helpless.

  7. As always, I thoroughly enjoy reading your posts, Pernille.
    A few years ago, I started allowing my pupils to leave the classroom (to go to the bathroom or to get a drink) whenever they needed to and without asking me. We discussed guidelines around this. It has worked out fine with only a couple of incidents where pupils needed to be reminded of the guidelines.
    Sure, now and then a child might leave just to get out for a couple of minutes, but I am fine with that.

    1. I’ve done that too, Mary. I’d always laugh when I’d walk up to a kid who was obviously stewing in their seat and needed an escape and I’d tell them it looked like they needed a restroom break. They’d look at me like I was crazy and say, “No, I don’t have to.” Id answer, “Yes, you do.” I’d let them know that as adults, most jobs permit them to escape when things get overwhelming, but as kids they’re stuck with strict schedules.

      It took me awhile to realize and actually implement the reasoning that KIDS ARE PEOPLE TOO!

  8. Ouch! I’ve been thinking a lot about these rules lately. I have a class that has a really tough time with transitions (I teach in a diff’t room than their own home room), and part of the difficulty is that we need to be quiet (not silent) as we move through the building. I’ve been really intrigued by the reading that I’m doing on Spark breaks
    ( http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/national/education/how-physical-exercise-helps-to-get-students-intellectually-fit/article20284157/?page=all), and working on trying them out. Still working on how to make the bathroom break work without a constant stream of kids leaving the room (we have a vandalism issue). Trying to create some humanity in an industrial system can be a challenge, but I agree that we would never, in an adult learning context, make learners do what we make out students do.

  9. I have been for the last 30ish years teaching / training to students and adult learners.
    I always had a problem with some of the bureaucratic regulations within the educational institution.
    I fully agree that being at school, campus or in a corporate training facility there are what I like to call the common sense self regulations!
    Young ones as it may not seem for some, are enough mature and aware to understand and take responsibility to respect any collective rule, but needless to make them feel they are at a boot camp!
    I wonder why do educational specialists think there is a solid need for strict discipline! If there are regulations and rules, to my understanding they are needed precisely when self-responsibility cannot be found in a group.
    So let us not start with the stick and think people would comply!

  10. One more reason why I choose to educate my children at home…they get a full night’s sleep, don’t start school until about 8:30 each morning, after they’ve had a good breakfast, not a pop-tart at 6 am while trying to catch a bus. They are allowed to work in a comfortable environment. They are still taught and required to be quiet(not silent, but quiet) in respect of their siblings who are also trying to study. But if they have a question, they can ask it, and if they need to go to the restroom, they can go without asking. They also don’t have homework. We work until we are done for that day, and then they have free time to go outside, do something constructive, or just have fun. One major part of education, which is often overlooked in this day, both at home and in schools, is that we are not just putting a bunch of knowledge into our children’s heads…we are supposed to be training them to become mature, responsible adults. No training that I have ever heard of that worked, worked without discipline and self-control.

    1. Hi Robin,
      Reading your lines made me wish I had young kids once again *Smiles* this experiment you are sharing I have seen it with many of my friends and professional contacts.
      Kids always socialize on the same grounds like the one who go to regular school Home schooling is an amazing excursion to live, of course there’s the parental engagement that is also required, not as just teachers, but also as mentors…
      Michel 🙂

  11. I do find this interesting. I have just finished my teaching degree and I have found as a mature age student I came to the classroom with different expectations to some of the other staff.

    Even on internship I let the kids have a two minute break to have a drink or go to the bathroom after they had put in a long solid effort of work. It’s not a bad idea for the teacher to have a minute to breath too!

    My mentor was very disparaging of the idea. But the kids loved it. The first time I did it they all looked at in silence – quite stunned. Then someone asked if I was serious. When I said yes I heard “Best teacher ever!” from one student to another.

    2 minutes buys a lot of good will and the kids settle down nicely afterwards. Why not?

  12. Pernille,
    Really great points! As long as it’s not disruptive to the focus of others, or if they’re working with a school device, I’ve always let my middle school students have water and a snack from their lunch while working. As well, they are free to leave the room to go to the washroom, as long as they’re discreet and don’t disturb the work of others. Very much, in fact, like I expect to be treated as an adult.
    The fact is, when you don’t have these rules, it doesn’t look like ‘school’ to many people; so therein lies the tension. We’ve been so concerned, for so long, with the artifacts of the system that we’ve let it stand long past its best before date. Collaborative thinking, creativity, higher-order questioning and a global mindset don’t fit well with structures that represent best practices for the past.

  13. Reblogged this on Flying Taco Man and commented:
    I was just thinking about this today, as I listen to our 6th graders get yelled at on an almost daily basis. They are soon-to-be adults and it is well within their developmental stage to TALK, why do we restrict them from doing it?

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