Personalized Conflict in Education With Teachers and Students

As of this writing, there are only 50 days of school remaining. I am currently teaching a Reading class in the city of Brockton, Massachusetts. Brockton is similar to Boston and is considered an inner city. I have also been delegated “third in command”, which means I frequently attempt to fill the role of Vice-Principal at my school. In this position, I see conflict all the time. I have observed more personalized conflict than substantive conflict. The personalized conflict has been among students and between students and teachers. The substantive conflict has been among teachers.

For a conflict to be considered “personalized” it must take on certain attributes. For example, personalized conflicts involve conflicts in personality. Additionally, because of the emotions commonly attached to this type of conflict (anger and frustration), this conflict is not a welcome one. This type of conflict normally becomes worse before it becomes better.

At my school where I work students are commonly having conflicts with other students. Most of the conflict involves certain “choice” name-calling that typically erupts over the course of the day. Other students who want to see a fight at school only exacerbate the conflict. I refer to this phenomenon as “Jerry Springer Syndrome”. Most kids love violence. They see violence in the shows they watch and in the video games they play. Violence has become part of some youth’s subculture. As the Vice-Principal I have attempted numerous times to quell a possible conflict between two students. Children don’t know how to deal with conflict. They do know how to feel anger and frustration as they normally exhibit this behavior above all.

Personality conflicts in children are very common. Students among their peers can create a personalized conflict.
In addition to “student to student” conflicts, there are also “student to teacher” conflicts. In fact, at my school the same teacher sends some children out class on a daily basis. Teachers do play favorites, but they also play least favorites. The only resolution the teacher can use is to remove the student from the classroom. The student-teacher relationship is very weak and due to this lack of respect from both sides, the conflict increases as the school year progresses. In some situations, students don’t even go to that class, electing to skip class and face the consequences of detention after-school. Conflicts between teachers and students are personalized conflicts.

The other type of conflict is called “substantive”. Substantive conflicts are more concrete. They are more concrete because they deal with real decisions. These decisions impact ideas, direction, and possible future action. Substantive conflicts occur between faculty members at my school. Schools face “real” issues everyday. When two educated adults disagree it can be considered a substantive conflict. However, the difference between this type of conflict and the one mentioned previously (personalized) is that this conflict can actually reach a resolution. An outcome is typically reached when both sides of the conflict agree that their original position hasn’t been compromised.

The three groups mentioned (student to student, student to teacher, and teacher to teacher) have sources of conflict as part of its make-up. The three sources being referenced are inter-personal, intra-organizational, and inter-organizational. Each source is different and plays a significant role in determining the measure of conflict and the reasons behind such a conflict.

An inter-personal source is equivalent to the need for control. It is the ultimate power struggle as both sides quest for control. This type of source can be attributed to a teacher-student relationship in the classroom as both battles for the attention of the class. This type of source can also be found in a teacher-teacher situation. Some adults crave control. It is their perception of control as a need and not a want.

An intra-organizational source can be found in conflicts that involve drastic change. Some people don’t like change. Some people fear change. This source of conflict can be found between teachers. It is the battle between “old school” and “new school”. Bigger, faster, stronger, and better do not appeal to some veteran teachers. The belief that “if it isn’t broke, don’t try to fix it”, can lead to conflict as new teachers try to invoke change.

An inter-organizational source is a conflict that is fueled by competition. Students are always competing for attention among their peers and teachers. This source of conflict can be found in student-to-student relationships as two people compete for acceptance.

Many times our perception of the world is askew. In life, conflicts are as common as rain. Substantive conflicts are closer to finding a resolution. Personalized conflicts are simply “too personal”.

Sometimes we confuse what we need with what we want. Sources of conflict can include the quest for power, the fear of change, and the need to compete and win in everything. Ultimately, the conflicts worth examining or resolving are the substantive conflicts.

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