Are Teachers Really Teachers or Behavioral Specialists?

Did you know that the attention span for adults was 12 seconds in 2000 and only 8 seconds in 2015? The human attention span is at its lowest ever (thanks to technology!). According to a study done by Microsoft, the average human being now has an attention span of 8 seconds and the attention span for the average listener is only 10 minutes. Could this be the reason why some of our students are not as focused as they should be in the classroom today and one of the main reasons for misbehaving?

Students retain only 5% of a lecture and 10% of reading an assignment after a 24 hour period according to Sousa, 2001.  Today teachers are dealing with more disruptive non-compliant behaviors than ever before. There was a time when students would come to class and somewhat respect the authoritarian or authoritative figure standing in front of the classroom. But today, it’s a whole different story! Are students not listening or participating as much because of lack of interest, boredom or disengagement? 

An engaged student is a learned student. When a student is not engaged, it may lead to disruptive behaviors in the classroom.  Maybe not all the time, but sometimes it does happen. Teachers’ are not only educators, but many are forced to play the role of some sort of behavioral specialist or intervention crisis specialist to de-escalate unwanted behaviors. Therefore, are teachers undercover behavioral specialists?

The first question to ask is do teachers want to spend their time teaching curriculum or dealing with behaviors? The goal of every teacher is to have their students learn the academic curriculum. From my observations as a former therapeutic day treatment case manager in the Culpeper County public school district, in Culpeper, Virginia, I’ve seen firsthand that teachers do not want to waste classroom time dealing with constant low-level disruptions. Low-level disruptions are those nagging, constant, everyday little annoying things that drive teachers crazy like talking in class, texting, tapping on the desk, talking back, etcetera. You know the drip, drip, drip, of a never-ending faucet effect.

According to a recent survey, the second question to ask is do teachers want to spend up to 3 to 4 hours per week teaching students how to behave? I recently spoke with a teacher and asked her, what was her biggest challenge in the classroom? She stated, “These kids don’t know how to behave.”  Most people will agree that teaching corrective behaviors is the parent/guardian responsibility, not solely the educator.

The student is with his or her teacher maybe 7 to 8 hours a day, Monday through Friday. The child is with his parent/guardian supposedly in their supervision at 15 to 16 hours a day, including weekends. If the educator is trying to teach good behavior and appropriate learning skills to different kids throughout the week and the home environment teaches the child something different or nothing at all, then it’s a loss and tragedy to the public school system and the community.

The final question to ask is will inspired teachers spend the next 4 plus years in college only to be disrespected, cursed or yelled at by non-engaged students for low wages? The answer is, probably not. But some will because teaching, training and cultivating young minds is one of the greatest opportunities ever!

Not only are teachers educators, but they also serve in other roles such as counselor, referee, coach, mentor, parent, fundraiser coordinator, advocate, hall monitor and mandated reporter, just to name a few. So, how do educators move from managing disruptive behaviors to actually having more time to educate? There are three recommendations to consider.

  • 1. Learn how to diffuse a situation quickly and continue to teach. Most students are only attention seekers.
  • 2. Know how, when and what battles to fight. If a teacher is able to teach, the students are able to learn and the annoyance is not serious, it may not be worth the struggle to engage the student.
  • 3. Keep the students engaged. An engaging student is a learning student, which is easier said than done.

I understand educators are not some type of behavioral specialist that can teach and correct at the same time.  But some are put in such stressful environments to the point of teaching behaviors become the norm as opposed to teaching the curriculum leaving no time to teach! Nor do they want to spend time correcting behaviors on a daily basis.

Teachers went to college, obtained a degree and became licensed to teach our kids and enhance their learning capacity, not necessarily deal with the negative ongoing persistent defiant behaviors. What’s taught in the school system, accountability and respect should also be taught in the home.

For additional information and resources, please visit my website at or email me

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