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Combatting Negative Media Coverage of Today's Schools and Students

Negative media portrayals and popular narratives miss out on the positive things happening in classrooms every day!
High school students

Keeping Perspective

Anyone who spends time reading or viewing news media is likely familiar with the negative portrayals of what schools and students are like today. In many ways, social media can amplify the negativity, creating popular narratives that only focus on a narrow view of education.

While problems in education certainly exist, like every decade before, they should not overshadow the many, everyday, positive things happening in schools. Student accomplishments and classroom successes might not get as much attention in media, but if you spend time working with students, you will get to experience those positive, rewarding moments.

Let's take a direct look at some of the most common issues that are the focus of media attention, how each might negatively shape perspective, and how you can be mindful in taking a more positive, balanced perspective.

Student Behavior & School Discipline

There are a number of popular narratives around student behavior in schools today. Media latches on to instances of misbehavior, and obviously, the most extreme cases tend to receive the most attention. When we see a handful of these stories and videos, it is easy to form a certain perspective and jump to conclusions. Consider if you have heard statements like these from others or have had thoughts like these come to mind: 

  • "Students these days are out of control."
  • "Schools are not safe for kids."
  • "Students have no respect anymore."
  • "I feel sorry for what teachers have to go through."

Consider how perspectives like these are limited. What positive things are being overlooked or overshadowed? Is this perspective fair to apply to all students? Millions of students are in hundreds of thousands of schools every week; do negative stories in media represent the majority of experiences?

There are also a number of related beliefs about school discipline today. Stories and comments on social media call for swift and harsh punishment; it seems that anything less than suspension or expulsion is considered a slap on the wrist. In other words, some people believe that schools simply won't or don't discipline students. Sometimes, this is coupled with perceptions about how schools used to handle discipline ("When I was in school...").

Again, consider how perspectives like this are limited. Since discipline actions are not made public (per family and student privacy laws), how much do people really know versus how much is conjecture? Is it true that schools aren't interested in improving student behavior? Might there be discipline approaches that are different than past methods but more effective for today's school settings?

Questions like these can help you take a realistic, balanced view of behavior and discipline in schools. For substitutes, they can also help you become more conscious of the positive things happening each day. It is natural to dwell on difficulties, but pausing to reflect on the positives can bring a much-needed balance to your day!

School and Student Academic Performance

News media is replete with negative stories about school and student performance. While there are legitimate, serious concerns that deserve attention, the "doom and gloom" tone and public response to these stories can give a skewed impression of student ability. Another source of attention is the "report card" that schools receive in some states, where they are labeled as "A," "B," "C," "D," or "F" schools. Such labels make it easy to jump to conclusions, disregarding circumstances and the important work happening in classrooms.

Naturally, concerns around school and student performance raise questions and demand improvement, but this invites some people to throw out blame, sometimes with completely unfounded and unfair criticisms, such as calling students lazy or unmotivated, calling teachers lazy, accusing schools of having low expectations, and so on.

Consider how achievement data can be taken out of context; consider how these reports are used to define, rather than inform, schools and students. In order to take a more positive, balanced view, ask yourself questions such as: Do media stories and online posts simplify and generalize, or do they take a thorough look at the details? Is there a focus on blame or on finding solutions? Are any strengths identified or only weaknesses?

Those who spend time in schools will notice the struggles that students and teachers face, but they will also notice that test scores do not provide a complete view of learning. There are tremendous accomplishments and successes happening in classrooms every day, and though they don't receive the same attention publicly, they provide a clear balance to the widespread, discouraging narratives that circulate online.

Teacher Dissatisfaction & Attrition

Every so often, teacher resignations go viral as they share their heartfelt reasons for leaving education. These reasons often include a list of problems that sadden and anger the public, including issues with student misbehavior, a heavy workload, low pay, lack of parent support, and more. In addition, news media seems to spotlight teacher shortages each school year. The overall impression is that people are leaving education in masses and that education is not an enjoyable career.

Truthfully, schools in some areas do face shortages, and there are some people who leave teaching because they are unhappy. However, education is not unique in this regard, and it is helpful to pause and consider these narratives more deeply. Are people really leaving education at a higher rate than other occupations? What reasons might teachers change careers that aren't due to dissatisfaction? What are the rewarding reasons many join or stay in education every year?

As a substitute, you understand the difficulties in schools, but you also get to experience the joys of helping students. You are able to see the many staff members who love teaching and see the side of education that media stories often miss.


Curriculum has been a topic of intense scrutiny, especially with the large changes of No Child Left Behind legislation and the Common Core State Standards Initiative in the last few decades. More recently, concerns over the relevancy and age-appropriateness of curricular content has also received greater attention. Like the issues discussed above, curriculum is important and deserves to be examined closely. However, the constant outpour of critical views can give the impression that nothing is right about what students are learning and how they are learning it.

Consider if you have heard either or both sides of these popular criticisms:

  • Curriculum is too traditional or too progressive
  • Curriculum is too hard or not rigorous enough
  • Curriculum is too boring or has too much fluff
  • Curriculum should leverage technology or kids shouldn't be on screens at school
  • Curriculum has too much busywork or doesn't require students to practice enough
  • Curriculum isn't preparing students to succeed on tests or doesn't do anything but teach to the test

Like other issues discussed in this article, it is important to pause and balance the criticism with questions. Is the curriculum being misrepresented in any way? Are there things that are working well? Are teachers able to make classes effective and engaging despite any flaws in a particular curriculum? Pausing to study an issue more deeply can help you recognize that the popular narratives in the news and on social media have important points but don't necessarily paint a complete picture.

One final note about curriculum––as a substitute, keep in mind that many sub plans aren't as complex or involved as a teacher might use when present! Sub plans are not indicative of the teacher's or school's typical curriculum. Community members may ask you about your experience or opinion about curriculum in different schools, so it can be helpful for them to understand the different version of lessons that substitutes receive.

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