Murray Siegel Maricopa
Murray Siegel [File]

This is the second of a two-part report on the lack of responsibility displayed by elementary school students. Input was obtained by querying educators with years of experience in the elementary grades.

What is the reason for the lack of personal responsibility among elementary students? Every educator indicated the source can be assigned to parents who prevent their children from accepting responsibility. The fact is that parents work and may not make the time to obtain information sent home from school with the child.

Some parents compensate for the lack of time spent with their children by focusing on good grades and demanding the student be given every break to receive an outstanding grade, even when it is definitely not deserved. It is important to note that this is not true of all parents, as many children come to school with a sense of responsible behavior that has been developed at home.

A standard example cited is the child who fails to bring the signed permission slip for a field trip that was due on Thursday. This child is informed that no signed slip means not going on the trip. The next day, the parent is in school demanding the child be allowed to go, first to the teacher, then the principal, and if that fails, a parent may approach a board member, demanding fairness.

When the parent is successful, what message is sent to the child? Bills, rent and taxes must be paid on time, yet a child who has learned to avoid responsibility will grow up continuing to avoid accountability until harsh consequences finally teach a needed lesson.

One teacher reported bullying by parents, especially when they wanted a child’s grade upgraded. One contributor stated, “We don’t push them to succeed anymore except for the end of the year test. I hear more about testing them to take a test than teaching them to succeed at life. It makes me sad.”

What can be done in these early grades to foster responsibility? One teacher suggests allowing students to create class rules to provide a connection and build accountability. All respondents agreed teachers can motivate responsible behavior by creating a reward system to positively reinforce desired actions. One contemporary approach involves rewards such as being first on line for lunch or being a teacher’s aide.

One educator provided a list of means to teach responsibility:

  • Teacher praise for specific actions
  • Discussion of responsible behavior in class
  • Providing students with opportunities to demonstrate responsibility
  • Recognizing and rewarding proper behavior
  • Giving students a choice of rewards to maximize individual motivation

Murray Siegel, Ph.D., a volunteers at Butterfield Elementary School, has more than 44 years of teaching experience.

This column appears in the December issue of InMaricopa magazine.