A great song to sing along with and I love it when Aretha sings it in the “Blues Brothers”, but it is a very loaded word.
I just read a ‘Dear Abby’ letter where a new grandmother felt disrespected by her daughter-in-law. She had come to help and was very full of experience and advice for the new mother. Unfortunately, her advice was ignored and she was angry! Where was the respect she was due as an elder and visiting head of the family? I cringed when I read it and blessed my sainted mother-in-law for never doing this to me and vowed to continue not doing it as my grandchildren arrive. That generational bridge, if not burned, certainly was damaged and should be declared unsafe for heavy loads.
My thoughts went to school (because in August that subject takes up approximately 70% of my cognitive thinking time) and tried to apply this situation to it. How many times have you heard that R-word tossed around when teachers are speaking of or to students? “I demand respect in my classroom,” is usually how it starts and then you hear the litany of sins of the child and how “school has changed over the years and not for the better.” Or how about the ones that start, “If they don’t listen to me…” and then you may add your own ending from the student “…ending up in prison” to “…won’t finish law school.”
When these conversations occur what I hear is “I am the focus of the classroom and everyone should do and think exactly like me. I know what is best for everyone and you had better be thankful I am here for you.” This attitude may work for students who have little faith in their ability to learn or those who are adept at playing the game of school. However, for students who are bored, self-confident, or just turned off by authority figures, this is a declaration of war. Just like the situation of the new grandmother and her daughter-in-law, the focus will be on the power struggle, not on the goal. This is true whether the goal is a healthy, happy baby or a healthy, happy classroom environment.
Now I am not advocating a touchy-feelie, hippy, do-whatever-you-want classroom, not by a long shot. But I am saying that if you treat your students as people, people who have something of value to contribute, you are more likely to have a classroom where people work as a team to achieve a common goal. The focus is no longer you, but the goal, a goal that the class can buy into and make part of them.
Another perspective of this respect would be the relationship that you have with your administration. I am lucky; my principal sees me as a professional and treats me that way. If either of us has a problem, we will talk it out, with the common goal of well-educated students. There is no ego involved because we both see the other as someone whose knowledge is sound and who has the same goal in sight. In essence, we trust each other.
I guess that if I really wanted to, I could extend this concept even farther. The Congress and the President, for example, could choose to respect each other instead of trying to dominate and have just their way. Whoa! Think how the goal of a good life for Americans would be accomplished if this were only true. Or how about, dare I suggest, that nations would stop trying to control their neighbors and make a profit at others’ expense. I do believe in world peace, I do believe in world peace, I do, I do.
Realistically, I can only control what I do and how I react to others. So I start small. I treat my students with a little R-E-S-P-E-C-T; hoping that they will respond in kind. How else are they supposed to learn such cooperation? I propose a common goal and if that fits in with why they are in my class, we can go from there. If it doesn’t, they need to share what their goal is or maybe they need to rethink why they are here. Does it work for every student? Heck, no. Do they all choose to work with instead of against me right away? Of course not! But I am the adult and I choose to continue to treat them as people of worth. If others reciprocate, I will ask why they do not see me that way.
Twenty-seven more days until school starts for my students - I still have a lot of work to do. But I am looking forward to trying some new ways to teach and reach them. Every year brings new challenges and opportunities. I love teaching; every day is different and I get to work with great people, adults and youth.