Coming from a first generation immigrant family in Canada, it was ingrained in our heads that teachers were to be respected-no matter what! My parents came from the small sister isles of Trinidad and Tobago, and their British style education with corporal punishment and all, had the pillar of respect centered in the process of education. Now, whether or not you felt that respect for your teacher, you could not show it. Lack of respect led to detentions and multiple physical reinforcement not only by the teacher, but by the principal and by family members after the fact. I remember a story my father once told me of when he disrespected a teacher at school, and got disciplined physically by not only his teacher, principal, but also by his older siblings when he get home. This upbringing plus the age old adage of "respect your elders" influenced my educational career, that is, until the day I was disrespected by an educator. Then everything seemed to change.
A definition for the word respect is "a feeling of deep admiration for someone or something elicited by their abilities, qualities, or achievements. Many teachers are proud and passionate about their profession, but teaching in itself is not considered to be the noble profession it once was. Whether its an attack on teachers in the media, or the bad experiences that resonate with former students (who are now parents), or the low income bracket that teachers fall into-- members of society are not generally as respectful to to the teaching community as in previous years. There is no deep admiration for many of us teachers as students get older.
Teachers are quick to point out this generation of children are rude and disrespectful, but rarely do we turn our attention to our practice. I have been guilty of not giving students the benefit of the doubt when assignments were handed late. I have scolded students who have been disruptive in my class. I have penalized students (detention, community service, taking tests away) when they have not followed the rules. Then there are the days when I am just having a bad day and I am short, or abrupt in my responses and the students can feel my tension. It is on these days, and or during these interactions where I have lost a lot of the respect of my students Building and maintaining positive relationships at all times takes rigor and energy. With the rigor of the everyday job, loss of employment rights, pressure to meet standardization test results, and the feeling of inadequacy at times, I can see why many teachers become overwhelmed and undervalued. This creates a tension that can come out in the most fragile learning moments thus inadvertently embarrassing or hurting a student through these aforementioned subtle situations. Now some of our students will not know or have developed the rigor to help maintain relational parity thus allowing themselves to disengage and at times disrespect a teacher in the classroom.
Disrespect has been described in many forms such as students:
- Talking back!
- Using inappropriate or profanity laden language!
- Using cell phones during class-time (not working but texting/snapchatting)
- Not paying attention in class.
- Vandalism of peer/school property.
- An overall sense of apathy towards the process of learning and the rigor associated with achievement.
Now looking at some of these we have to address the changes in our society. For example, talking back may now feel as student self empowerment for students- I have a voice and now I am going to use it. I have seen students respectfully challenge a teacher's view or commentary and that student was not only chastised, but also punished. Society has turned a blind eye to how the media encourages language and how violence and swearing continue to permeate throughout all aspects of society. Historically, teachers did not have to deal with competing for attention with cell phones and other devices in classrooms. Vandalism was met with harsh disciplinary sanctions. But this sense of apathy towards one thing that is part of the human condition- which- is learning really highlights a mind-shift in education.
Grades are seen as the most important aspect of learning when we must be instilling in our students that learning never stops and the rewards are intrinsic-- being cognizant of the world around us and our self-actualization in this world. We have moved from an industrial age of education in to a technological age but have not addressed the concerns of apathy that have arisen. Historically, students would go to school to get a job and there were many of jobs out there. Now a days, having a degree or high-school diploma does not guarantee anything. Add to this the amount of people we see who continue to make money doing less work, then you see why students may not care. Secondly, our curriculum needs to teach our students about meaningful real life experiences rather than some of the content we are teaching them now. Stop giving them tasks and assignments that don't relate to their lives. The more inconsequential tasks we give them, the less they will care about what they are suppose to be learning.
Respect is not a one way street but I believe that based on our authoritative nature that we have to approach our practice differently. Students will respect people or qualities that they admire and we must do so with our teaching. Whether it is integrating technology or just building relationships, we must show students how we are changing the world. If we show them we care about the process of learning and highlight the beauty of the art of learning, then maybe, just maybe they will fall in love with it too.