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Is teaching manners a good use of class time?






When children aren’t taught manners at home, I believe the responsibility falls to the school. Teaching students how to respond when greeted, to say please and thank you, and to make eye contact are skills that last a lifetime. In recent years, mounting expectations, additional responsibilities, and dwindling resources have made teaching more stressful. How can we find time to teach manners and courtesy? I incorporate them into my student behavior expectations. I teach the importance of good manners and courtesy the first day and model positive behaviors all year. I teach “please” and “thank you” when I pass out pretzels or cereal for snack time. Students have two choices when I offer a snack: they can say “thank you” or “no thank you.” Mouths drop when I take the snack back because a student forgot to say “thank you.” I model courtesy through my interactions with students, colleagues, and parents. We practice how to make eye contact and discuss ways to respond when greeted.

I was surprised that many students have never been taught what to do when someone says “good morning.” When I talk with a student or another adult, my students have learned that they must wait until our conversation has finished before I will talk to them. Is teaching manners and courtesy a good use of classroom time? Do you prefer adults who are polite or rude?

Kirk Hollinbeck teaches fourth grade at Procter Elementary in Independence, Missouri.



School is a social experience, and teachers will always spend some time each day dealing with manners. However, with so many academic subjects to thoroughly introduce, discuss, and lock in (especially with testing requirements), it should not be the teacher’s responsibility to teach basic manners as part of the formal curriculum. Manners should be taught at home from the time a parent begins the dialogue while feeding and diapering the baby!

Before a child enters school, caretakers, parents, or relatives need to define traditional boundaries and reward courteous interactions with others. Before starting school, children must learn patience, to consider others’ space and feelings, how to communicate their needs politely, and to treat each other with kindness. If parents have done their job, teachers only need to reinforce manners in the classroom and on the playground. Most children will accept the rules at school because they have already heard them at home, and having sets of rules makes children feel safe.

Further, because children pick up somewhat different cues for manners in each unique culture, families are the best teachers of manners. When children begin school, they then have a basis for observing their classmates and teachers and adapting to appropriate classroom manners.

Carolyn Cowgill is a retired teacher from the Central Bucks School District in Doylestown, Pennsylvania.




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