Misbehave in class = Struggle street later on

You already knew that students who misbehave in class won't likely do as well in later life. But here's the evidence anyway.


In the 'Austin Powers' movie Foxxy Cleopatra uses the classic sarcastic response - "Tell me something I don't know" - to an obvious Austin statement. But like a naughty schoolboy Austin jumps at the opportunity to treat her response literally and obliges with an appropriately inappropriate (and hilarious) reply.

Appropriately, this post endeavours to tell you something you don't know (but will more than likely confirm and affirm something you already knew).

A US longitudinal study published recently in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology - 'How You Behave in School Predicts Life Success' - found that behaviour in the classroom can have a greater influence on a student's attainment beyond school - more so than socio-economic background or cognitive ability.

The study tracked the lives of students from high school through to fifty years after the initial assessment. It addressed the key question of whether a student's behavior at school has any long-lasting effects in later life.

A key finding was that being a "responsible student" and having a "higher interest in school" related to higher educational attainment, higher occupational prestige and higher income.

And now for something you didn't know...

After the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) conducted surveys of 15 year old students from across all OECD countries they ranked Australia 63rd out of 68 for 'classroom discipline' and 'disciplinary climate'. PISA found that Australian students identified their learning environments as more "noisy and disorderly" than students from most other OECD countries.

So if Australian students are (apparently) 'naughtier' than their counterparts in higher-performing OECD countries, and if classroom behaviour has such an impact on students' later success, should this issue now become a higher priority in the Australian education politics?

That depends.

Does my experience in mainstream classrooms reflect the PISA findings? Yes and no.

I define student misbehaviour not by classroom noise levels but as any behaviour that either stops me from teaching or that prevents other students from learning. By that definition I have taught very few students who misbehave to that degree (but I think I help achieve that by working hard to stay one step ahead of potentially disruptive behaviour). However, if I were to compare my personal observations of Finnish students with behaviour of Australian students I would describe Finnish students as more 'chilled' and readily-compliant while Aussie kids are definitely rowdier and often require more than one request before complying.

Does your personal experience in classroom teaching match the findings mentioned in the studies? Are Australian students really more disruptive than students from other OECD countries? Are we that bad?

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If Dr Evil from Austin Powers could post on this page he would likely say of our Aussie students: "You’re not quite evil. You’re semi-evil. You’re quasi-evil. You’re the margarine of evil. You’re the Diet Coke of evil, just one calorie of evil."

What do you say?

James Phelps

Read more below.

Download the original study here


Download the PISA report here


For further perspectives and reactions to this issue.

Classroom behaviour key to educational and career success


Student behaviour at school is a better predictor of educational and career success than IQ, socio-economic background or personality, according to a US study that could have serious implications for Australia’s bid to arrest declining academic standards.

The first longitudinal study examining the relationship between adolescent behaviours and life outcomes has revealed that those who show higher levels of interest in school and higher levels of responsibility go on to have more prestigious, high-paying jobs. The research, published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, has turned the spotlight on the “problematic” state of Australia’s classrooms as highlighted in the latest Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) survey, in which Australia ranked 63rd out of 68 OECD countries for classroom discipline.

It revealed that one-third of the students in advantaged schools, and about half of those in disadvantaged schools, reported noise and disorder in most or every class, making it difficult to learn.

The latest revelation comes as the federal government has promised to increase education funding by $24.5 billion over the next 10 years. Education Minister Simon Birmingham said yesterday that part of the

funding would go to support teachers and implement programs to improve student behaviour.

“Classrooms should be environments that promote student growth and learning and where students have respect for each other and their teachers,” Senator Birmingham said. “Respect for teachers starts at home and there is a clear message from research like this for parents to do everything possible to encourage students to go to school with an attitude to learn, not disrupt.”

Australian Catholic University research fellow Kevin Donnelly said Australian students had suffered as a result of a constructivist approach to education, which favoured student-centred learning in a democratic, interactive environment over explicit teaching and firm discipline. “Classrooms behaviour and discipline is the elephant in the room,” he said. “It’s a problem and stands to reason that we need a greater focus on more effective pedagogy and what happens in the classroom. Teachers need to be in control.”

Greg Ashman, a senior teacher at Ballarat’s Clarendon College, said classroom behaviour management had received a bad rap in recent years as academics had pushed the idea that students misbehaved for a reason and that “if you are only accommodating to their needs, they will behave”.

“There’s this idea that by teachers abdicating their authority, the classroom becomes this nirvana of peace and love, and people sharing power and control,” he said. “That just doesn't happen.”

Mr Ashman said discipline was often misunderstood as simply being about punishing bad behaviour. He said consequences were important, but effective discipline was largely about being proactive. “Behaviour is linked to circumstance and a circumstances can be manipulated to create an environment that encourages good behaviour,” he said.

While intelligence, socio-economic status and personality traits have long been associated with certain life outcomes, researchers from the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign, University of Houston and Germany’s University of Tubingen established that being a responsible student and paying attention in school mattered when predicting the attainment of status in adulthood.

Relying on data from a 1960 student survey, after which participants were followed up four times over 50 years, they found that having higher interest in school was related to higher educational attainment and higher occupational prestige and income.