This week, a friend and coworker, upon detailing some of the nasty things her students have been doing behind her back, brought up the adage, "Character is who you are when no one is looking." It will be here theme for the next C.A.R.E. meeting and highly apt for her classroom, as well as (unfortunately after yesterday) some of the students in mine.
The problem came about yesterday when I was out of the classroom for bilingual testing all day. I came back in the last 30 minutes to find out that several of my students had teased each other and made each other feel bad and one of my students what just outright defiant with the substitute. While these issues aren't uncommon in any classroom around the country, they are completely unacceptable and I told my students as much. But the "punishment" as it may be can not just be a firm talking-to. Something in their training needs to actually stick with them so that they are intrinsically motivated to be good people ALL of the time, not just because they are trying to please an adult that they respect.
According to brain research, until late teens/early twenties, the part of the brain that is responsible for emotion and empathy is not yet fully formed. This is supposed to explain (excuse?) a student who walks up to you and says something like, "Eww, why would you wear THAT shirt?!" (We are to assume that they can't make a connection about how it would feel if someone would say that to them.) It is because of this, that we ask students to LEARN what IS appropriate, whether or not they understand why. To EXPECT them to be rude and uncaring is the same as having low expectations for succeeding in a content area. Just because a student may be underdeveloped in personal understanding does not account for their ability to learn proper social norms and expectations. If presented in an impactful way, I have no doubt about their abilities to comprehend the "why" (whether or not they feel it) and adhere to these expectations.