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Authority in the Classroom: A Tale of Two Teachers

Updated on January 4, 2021
Rochelle Frank profile image

Rochelle worked for 20 years in elementary schools as a sub teacher, eventually presenting teacher training workshops in Orange County, CA.

How Do You Measure Classroom Control?

Measuring  a teacher's authority is easier than unrolling a tape.
Measuring a teacher's authority is easier than unrolling a tape. | Source

Size is Not Everything

Miss Peterson, my tenth grade English teacher was almost five feet tall and probably weighed about 96 pounds.

She could have been easily pawed to shreds by an underweight Chihuahua, yet she could look any of us in the eye and make us believe that the school would fall directly on our heads if we even thought of displeasing her.

We also knew that God would approve of the school falling on us, if Miss Peterson wanted it to.

Even though almost every student in the high school was taller than her, she was a teacher we all looked up to. She was tough, consistent, persistent, demanding, witty, compassionate, exacting, and fair.

Her classes were fast-paced and were conducted with the serene confidence of someone who knows she is totally correct in her assessments and expectations. She seemed stern, but there was an underlying, subtle sense of humor that we barely recognized in our sophomoric lack of sophistication and experience.

Her wit was sharp, but not hurtful and her classes were interesting.

The Coach

At the same school Mr. Cragston the powerfully-built wrestling coach/geometry teacher with a size 52 neck, ranted, roared, threatened, and steamed regularly in front of some of the worst behaved classes I have ever seen. We all knew that God didn't care.

It was a little scary when he began to bellow and pound a fist into his open hand and stomp his foot. The walls shook slightly and we were all transfixed when his face mutated into that amazing shade of red, but out of earshot, everyone mocked and imitated him.

It was obvious that someone with very little control of himself, and someone who could regularly be persuaded to relinquish even that little, did not earn. the undying respect of students.

I am sure he had no idea of how foolish he appeared. The game in his classroom was to see how much one student could get away with before the next impertinent student provided the camel's-back-breaking straw, and he blew up.

It was like playing Jenga or pick-up sticks.... where the winner is one who avoids setting off the ultimate predictable disaster.

For most students, the game was more interesting than the geometry lesson. Calculating the area of isosceles triangles was measurably less stimulating than inciting a full-blown demonstration of his prodigious, yet ineffective wrath.

No one would dare play such a game with Miss Peterson. We weren't prepared to deal with righteous wrath. School walls were very substantial, and none of us wished to be supernaturally squished . . . even in the figurative sense.

Though we sometimes think that our "authority" comes from having a commanding physical presence, punitive power, or the bare-handed black belt skills required to fracture cinder blocks, it really proceeds from a less "concrete "source.

Miss Peterson was obviously less powerful than Mr.Carrington in the corporeal sense, yet in a face-to-face match most of us would have bet on her because we believed that even he would feel the apprehension of impending holy wall-falling once he looked her in the eye.

It's Not What We Teach

Which one had moral influence?

Which one loved teaching?

Who had more successful students?

Who had a less stressful class environment?

Who had more personal satisfaction?

It's obvious that our underlying attitudes and convictions, and the actions which proceed from them, affect others on many levels from the most philosophic to the most practical. Gaining respect requires giving respect.

We learned some subject matter in each class, but there were more important lessons never penciled in a plan book. Respect is not secured by bully tactics.

An anonymous quote by a wise teacher summed up the effect of our personal influence: "It is what we ARE that gets across, not what we try to teach."


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    • Rochelle Frank profile imageAUTHOR

      Rochelle Frank 

      9 years ago from California Gold Country

      I'm sure you do-- most of us who have been through school have seen several examples of each. I wish they could see themselves as we see them.

    • profile image


      9 years ago

      I see this in my school on a daily basis!

    • Rochelle Frank profile imageAUTHOR

      Rochelle Frank 

      9 years ago from California Gold Country

      Thanks for sharing your personal experiences with this phenomenon, Aarisa. This is exactly the kind of thing I was referring to. I'm sure you are a very effective teacher.

    • Aarisa profile image


      9 years ago from Cleveland, Oh

      I very much enjoyed your hub. I have been teaching in a large urban district for 22 years. I am 5'1" and have seen many teachers come and go. I remember the one art teacher whose class was across from mine. He stood tall at 6'3" yet had no control whatsoever. He was not able to engage and manage a class of second graders, which made sense, because he had little control of himself. Yes, he stood tall, but truly he was a little man. He would yell, pump his fists, and suck in the air around him, and that was only the beginning of his tantrums. I doubt there were any students in the building that didn't stay awake at night plotting ways to set him off. It looked ridiculous to me, an adult, so I could only imagine how it looked to his students. I offered to help him, but come on....what could a 5'1" non-athletic woman do for him? Day after day, I would be required to shut my door in order to put a barrier between chaos and education. One day, he finally spewed the wrong words to the wrong kid. This kid also stood tall at about 5'10" and was on the hefty side. Like his art teacher, he had many challenges with self-contol. He had tried to intimidate me early in the year by approaching me in front of an entire class. He was angry about something that I can no longer remember. He was physically intimidating, and I admit my heart did begin to pound at a quickened pace. When he moved into my personal space, I looked up and whispered to him, " If you're planning on knocking me down, you better make sure I don't get up." he gave me a half smile and went back to his seat. I never had another behavioral issue with him. But the art teacher had no filter and certainly even less common sense. This boy was angry during his art class and approached his teacher in the same manner that he had approached me. With all the wisdom he could muster, Mr. Art shrieked out, "You want to hit me? Well, come on. Hit me!". We all know the adage: The bigger they are, the harder they fall. Mr. Art went down like a ton of bricks. The boy was suspended for ten days, and Mr. Art was never seen again. The art of teaching is truly a case in point of how size doesn't matter.

    • Rochelle Frank profile imageAUTHOR

      Rochelle Frank 

      9 years ago from California Gold Country

      Thank you for commenting, Spirit Whisperer. Some will never understand nurturing.

      There are a lot of stresses placed on teachers today, but I think there are still many good ones out there.

    • Spirit Whisperer profile image

      Xavier Nathan 

      9 years ago from Isle of Man

      "Tell a child what to think and you make him a slave to your knowledge. Tell him how to think and you make all knowledge his slave."

      You have written a great hub here and it describes beautifully the dynamic between teachers and students in the classroom. That very same teacher who could not control his class would find those same children only too willing to behave angelically should an inspector arrive to assess his teaching.

      The little despot whom you were all afraid of rules with fear and that is never a conducive atmosphere for learning. Learning is not something to be controlled it is something nurtured. Education comes from the Latin EDUCARE which means to draw out and there is little evidence of this in the way our children are taught today. Voted up!

    • Rochelle Frank profile imageAUTHOR

      Rochelle Frank 

      9 years ago from California Gold Country

      I guess we have all had some tough days. They know how to challenge us, and hopefully we learn, too.

    • sagebrush_mama profile image


      9 years ago from The Shadow of Death Valley...Snow Covered Mountain Views Abound!

      Great comparison! My methods professor taught us to incorporate some preventive discipline into our classroom activities! I had some tough days, and poor displays, my first year teaching, the worst of which was the morning I stomped my foot and lost the heel of my shoe! Those subtle techniques won out over temper tantrums most times!

    • Rochelle Frank profile imageAUTHOR

      Rochelle Frank 

      9 years ago from California Gold Country

      You are right, and the kids seem know that-- even the very young ones.

    • Joyette  Fabien profile image

      Joyette Helen Fabien 

      9 years ago from Dominica

      I have seen both types. My niece fit the description of Ms. Peterson in all respects . The kids loved her. They do not mind if you are tough on them so long as they can see that you care.

    • Rochelle Frank profile imageAUTHOR

      Rochelle Frank 

      10 years ago from California Gold Country

      It seems like everyone has met both kinds. They all taught us something. Your teaching situation was a tough one, I don't think I could have held out, either. Still, there are a few who manage to do it without bullying tactics.

    • WannaB Writer profile image

      Barbara Radisavljevic 

      10 years ago from Templeton, CA

      I will never forget my third grade teacher. i don't know how long she had been reaching, but she was not a young teacher. Thoughout the school day as she walked around the room, she opened cupboards and drawers, and did not close them tightly. Then, if she was displeased,she would keep the whole class in at recess and walk around yelling and slamming shut anything she had left open. That's all I can remember about her, except her name, which out of courtesy, I won't repeat.

      It's not easy to manage a classroom, as I learned in my own teaching years. It takes a special gift to challenge and motivate those who are unwillingly in your classroom and who think nothing of car theft and other kinds of lawbreaking, as was true of many of my public school students in my first two years. I didn't have the gift fir teaching that type of student. I left. During my last year in the public schools, I asked another teacher of the same students I had in a different required subject how he did it. He said he'd take them out on the back porch of the bungalow classroom and cuss them out. Not my style.

    • Rochelle Frank profile imageAUTHOR

      Rochelle Frank 

      10 years ago from California Gold Country

      Thank you, Lita. I think you are exactly right, a prepared and confident teacher avoids a lot of problems,

    • Lita C. Malicdem profile image

      Lita C. Malicdem 

      10 years ago from Philippines

      I used to tell this to my fellow teachers when I was in active service, "An angry teacher isn't angry with anybody or anything at all but himself. This anger surfaces because he comes to school unprepared. He sanitizes his incapacity by ventilating it on the innocent others".

      Whenever I passed by a classroom, the hush-hushes made me smile. My motto worked!

    • Rochelle Frank profile imageAUTHOR

      Rochelle Frank 

      11 years ago from California Gold Country

      Some teachers teach us how a person can be a bad example.

      I agree that the key is respect. Thanks.

    • magnoliazz profile image


      11 years ago from Wisconsin

      I think it all comes down to RESPECT! Mr Carrington probably did not respect or even like his students all that much, so of course, that's what he got back in return.

      Whereas Miss Peterson obviously was doing the best job she could, and respected the children she taught, respected the position she was in.

      Respect is a two way street. I too had a teacher like Mr Carrington, and although I was an A student and liked all my teachers, he was something else. I remember thinking that he was an immature IDIOT! He certainly should have been in a different field. He lost his cool over everything. Looking back I think he was bi-polar or something. I have no idea how a teacher like that stays employed. Ranting and raving is not the way to handle one's frustration. He was not a very good role model, that's for sure.

    • Izzy Anne profile image

      Izzy Anne 

      11 years ago

      A lovely essay. I enjoyed reading it. I especially like the moral at the end.

    • Rochelle Frank profile imageAUTHOR

      Rochelle Frank 

      12 years ago from California Gold Country

      Unforunately, some taught by being a bad example.

    • DonnaCSmith profile image

      Donna Campbell Smith 

      12 years ago from Central North Carolina

      Good observations, and so ture. I remember both kinds of teachers!

    • MM Del Rosario profile image

      MM Del Rosario 

      12 years ago from NSW, Australia

      oh my...this hub reminds me of someone !!!!

    • Shadesbreath profile image


      12 years ago from California

      Some people aren't able to pull that kind of gravity off I think, which is why they end up red-faced and ballooning anger into a room. Most probably can't. Thanks for the mini-trip back into my own elementary school days.

    • CJStone profile image

      Christopher James Stone 

      12 years ago from Whitstable, UK

      A neat rumination on the idea of personal authority Rochelle. I really like this.


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