Help! My Students Won’t Stop Making Inappropriate Noises

“Last year it was moaning. This year it’s something new.”

Ilustration of students making inappropriate noises

Dear We Are Teachers,

It’s my second year teaching 7th grade, which means my second year dealing with middle school boys’ antics. Last year it was moaning. This year it’s boys slapping their thighs together under the desk. I’ve told them to stop. I’ve told them the noises are inappropriate. Teachers at my school have essentially been told that all behavior issues are our (the teachers’) problem to deal with. This is gross and makes me feel uncomfortable. What am I supposed to do?

—save me from the slapping

Dear S.M.F.T.S.,

If this were just fart noises, I would simply send my condolences for the occupational hazards you’re experiencing as a middle school teacher. Godspeed.

But since these are sounds that are sexual in nature (the thigh slapping is new to me 😳), I would do three things:

  1. First, pull each student from lunch individually. Ask them to contact their parent on speakerphone. Have them replicate the noise they keep making in class. Ask the student to explain to their parent what it means and why they keep doing it after they’re asked to stop. You will be tempted to avoid the awkwardness, but lean in. They are relying on you feeling awkward to not have to be accountable for their behavior. “Can you explain to Mom what that sound means? Why do you do it after I’ve asked you to stop? Is there a reason you do this in my class but not in [another teacher’s]?” Make them squirm.
  2. If the behavior continues, email your AP that you have attempted to handle this yourself but to no avail. Mention that the behavior makes you feel extremely uncomfortable and prevents you from focusing on teaching. Importantly, ask who the Title 9 coordinator at your school is in case you need to file a grievance later.
  3. My guess is admin will step in very swiftly after #2. If they don’t, take them up on that Title 9 grievance.

I’m sure there are students in your class who feel uncomfortable too. These students (and you!) are far too precious to not protect at all costs right now. I have no time to play.

Dear We Are Teachers,

I teach high school juniors and am constantly being pulled into meetings that could have been resolved with a simple “No, we’re not meeting about this” from my AP. I have been abundantly clear in my communications with parents: If your kid will just do the work, I can help make sure they pass. And yet every week, I find myself having to meet with parents who want a “game plan” for how we can get their child to pass my class. The “game plan” is always the same: Do the work! This doesn’t need to be a meeting—your kid needs to do literally anything. Can I refuse to meet about this?  

—fresh out of game plans

Dear F.O.O.G.P.,

I’m not sure whether you can refuse to meet parents. However, you can definitely take steps that will (hopefully) decrease the number of parents you have to meet with.

Create a Google Doc or some kind of landing page with FAQs related to this “game plan” you keep having to make. Instead of answering these questions in person in meetings, you can put them in this document so parents who apparently care so much can get answers long before (*checks watch*) April. Think about the type of questions you hear on repeat. For example:

  • My child is failing. How can they improve their grade?
  • How do we sign up for office hours/tutorials?
  • What kind of extra credit do you offer?
  • What other advice do you have for students who have fallen behind on their schoolwork?

Make sure to link to anything they might need to complete the work without your involvement. School management system. Curriculum. Resources. Take your email inbox out of the equation as much as possible. And finally, run it by your AP/principal. Make sure they back this idea before you start sending it out.

Now, the next time a parent emails and says, “Can we set up a time to meet? I just saw that Johnny is failing and would love a game plan,” you can say, “I’d be happy to meet. I’m free next Wednesday at 10 a.m. In the meantime, I’m going to send you a document I’ve made with FAQs on this topic that may answer some of the questions you have.”

Parents will be delighted to not have to make a special trip to the school, and you’ll be delighted to have your conference period back. (And who knows, you might even get some work turned in.)   

Dear We Are Teachers,

I’m a para currently getting my teacher certification to teach middle school science. I’m gay (not openly gay at school), and students regularly use homophobic slurs to my face. When I told the grade-level AP, he agreed that it was unacceptable, but he encouraged me to “be glad it wasn’t something worse” and that his hands were tied as far as being able to punish them. He insinuated there would be parent backlash because this is a “political” issue. What should I do? I’m worried that if I make a big deal of this, I won’t be considered for a job in this school or in the district.

—still dealing with middle school bullies

Dear S.D.W.M.S.B.,

I’m so sorry you’re dealing with this. General respect and human decency is not a political issue. To make sure you get the best answers possible, I’m handing this question over to a teacher I trust in the LGBTQ community:

“I’m a Black, gay teacher in Texas, so I understand your frustration on a personal level. I would send this exact email to your principal and CC your AP:

“I wanted to follow up on our conversation on [date] with [AP] about students directing sexual remarks and slurs at me. Students have continued this behavior despite me telling them to stop. I’m looking for an end to this continued harassment as it affects my focus and sense of safety. Thank you in advance for looking into this report of a hostile work environment.”

“I know it can feel intimidating to submit a grievance, but look at it this way: If your school or district looks the other way when you’re being harassed … is that a school or district you really want to work for? Similarly, maybe you saying something will be the push they need to make your school safer—for teachers and for students.”

Hope this helps. If not, I say get out of there and don’t look back.

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Dear We Are Teachers,

I’ve been teaching AP U.S. History for the last 12 years. Last semester, after my students repeatedly expressed surprise that certain states existed, I handed out a diagnostic quiz and asked them to label the map. Out of 130 students, FIVE could label all 50 states. So, a few weeks ago, I had students learn the 50 states on top of their regular curriculum. A group of parents emailed calling me “sadistic,” “demeaning,” and “petty.” I am floored. My administrator supports me, but this might be my breaking point. Are other teachers seeing this kind of thing? No one at my school seems surprised.

—Seriously illinois-ed