One of my first year students eats during my class and I scold her publicly. I tell her this is rude, she should have had breakfast before 8:40. The class goes well but I must stop now and then to ask for silence. I have two clever-looking students who oscillate non-stop between chattering like old women (they’ll catch the allusion) and looking at me in enraptured attention. No middle term. Others use their computers and I trust they’re not checking Facebook.

The girl who ate her breakfast in class approaches my table to hand in an exercise and I take the chance to insist that her behaviour was rude. To my surprise she tells me that her seating-row mates were not bothered and I almost scream that I am, and that I am due respect as I’m working. She, very politely using ‘usted’ all the time, says she won’t eat again if that bothers me so much… She misses my point, thinking this is my personal caprice.

In the evening I watch a debate on TV3 about why young people are so rude and it turns out their parents don’t have the energy to teach them etiquette = how to behave in public places. I feel tense and upset all the time I’m teaching this class. They’re lovely people, don’t get me wrong, but I can’t be policing them all the time and since they seem to lack the rules of classroom etiquette, here’s what we expect at UAB:

Teacher at work:
– eat and drink before or after class, not during it
– listen in silence, unless you want to contribute to class discussion
– don’t use the cell phone to text friends
– use the computer only to make notes
– BRING THE TEXT we’re discussing and a piece of paper to make notes
– attendance is expected but not compulsory – if you’re terminally bored, go to the bar

All this amounts to: I’m not your mother, you’re not children and my class is not a nursery. The classroom is not your living room, either, and I don’t offer a spectacle to be commented on, like a film or a TV show. A classroom is a space for sharing ideas and thinking requires a correct body language and a respectful behaviour as I AM WORKING HARD FOR YOUR BENEFIT. Do I sound authoritarian? Well, I must be, otherwise I won’t be able to educate you. And, yes, all this is very important.

I know teachers all over Spanish universities share my feeling that first year, as a colleague told me, is becoming Bachillerato’s third year, with our classrooms colonised by some of secondary school bad manners (there are worse manners, I know, even worst). But I also know that students very often simply don’t know what is expected from them and this is why I’d rather be specific. I hope this helps.

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