I didn’t have any idea what respect actually meant when I was growing up and to be perfectly honest, I don’t think I could give you a very good definition right now. Okay google what do you got?
Respect: noun: a feeling of deep admiration for someone or something elicited by their abilities, qualities, or achievement.What? I’m suppose to have respect for my teachers as a kid. That means I should feel deep admiration for them, and myself and my school. I liked my teachers, and I admired some of them, but that’s not something you choose to do, that’s something you earn from people.
Verb: admire, avoid harming or interfering with.
Now the verb definition makes sense. I should as a student avoid harming other students, the school or myself. That’s good advice but why not be more direct and tell kids to admire each other more and not hurt each other? This is something my 3rd graders and my 8th graders can actually understand and put into action.
It feels like this idea of “respect” has been elevated in the context of schools into this a value, a philosophy on life. This is why I never really used the word respect in teaching or in conversations with students. It just seemed too ambiguous.
At my current school we don’t really talk about respect to students all that often. It’s just not a term that I hear in classrooms. Once in a while teachers will talk about expressions of disrespect, like interrupting someone giving a presentation, but we don’t have posters in the hallways and classrooms touting respect as a central idea of the our school.
There are things that my students do that other would probably find disrespectful. My middle school students aren’t great with saying please or thank you or curbing their attitude when they talk to me. Some of my third graders do not immediately snap to a submissive look of regret on their face when I am reprimanding them. My students talk back and sometimes they play jokes on me. For others this may seem like disrespect but for me it’s allowing students to have a voice and to relax into being themselves.
There’s a level of surface respect that doesn’t necessarily reflect real admiration and then there’s people who don’t seem respectful on the surface but have a genuine level of respect that is expressed in more meaningful ways.
The most important level of respect, going with the admiration definition, is the respect they have for themselves not me as their teacher. If being respectful to me helps them get there, than great, but at the end of the day if my students have little respect for me but have learned to truly respect themselves, then I’ve been a successful teacher in my book.