Script for my podcast

Dustin Swanson hit the nail right on the head in his blog when he wrote “Teaching is an art; it involves emotions .” This fact is especially important to realize and appreciate now that the new school year is fast approaching. I can have the best lesson plans in the world and be organized to the nth degree, but if I don’t pay attention to my students’ emotional well being it’s not going to go well for me or my students.

I have been teaching at-risk kids for over 20 years and have learned the value of spending the first few weeks of school developing a positive relationship with my students. I have found that these kids do not automatically give me respect just because I am a teacher. Those days are long gone. Far from it. It’s not the 1950’s anymore. The tables are turned. The at-risk teenagers I teach demand respect from me first before they are prepared to respect me as a teacher. They watch me carefully those first few weeks to see if I really do respect them, if I walk my talk.

I’ll have to admit when I first realized this I was stunned. I would have to prove that I respect them before they would respect me? That didn’t seem right. They weren’t even going to give me the benefit of the doubt! I would start with zero respect and have to work my way up.They tell time and time again that they hate teaches. I don’t know who they think I am when they tell me this. I had one grade eleven student tell me that she hasn’t talked to teachers since she started high school. Talk about being disconnected from school.

How do I earn my students respect ? I follow the golden rule. I treat them the way that I would want them to treat me. It really works. I have few rules but they are all about showing one another respect. I don’t mean the kind of respect that when I tell them to jump, they ask how high. I honour them, how they feel, what they say and do and I expect them to do the same to me and their fellow classmates.

You know that part of the problem is that they don’t exactly know what it means to be respectful or how to be respectful. I’m not kidding. Some times when I tell them that it wasn’t respectful to do whatever, they are blown away. They don’t necessarily mean to be disrespectful but don’t know that they are being disrespectful.

I spend the first few weeks working hard at being respectful to kids who aren’t necessary respectful to me. I basically model day in and day out what it means to be respectful and how to approach problems by being respectful. Now I’m not always successful. The kids are quick to tell me that I’m not always respectful. It’s true. Sometimes I absolutely loose it. I apologize and then tell them that teachers aren’t perfect. I’m not perfect. I’ll be the first to admit it. Teachers are human beings first and teachers secondly and because they are human they make mistakes like losing it once in a while.

Kids need to know that teachers are not perfect. Kids need to know that not being perfect is something they have in common with teachers. When I tell kids this they are a bit surprised. They tell me that some teachers think and act like they are perfect. We talk about why teachers and other people act like they are perfect. These and the other numerous discussions we have interfere with the curriculum I’m supposed to be teaching. But, if we don’t get to the bottom of whatever is disconnecting these kids from school and life they will never learn despite my excellent lesson plans . They can’t learn math or whatever until they reconnect with school and teachers. My students are absolutely amazed at what they can and do learn by the end of the semester. I work hard at the golden rule.
Just an aside here, I remember early in my career working into the wee hours of the morning creating absolutely wonderful lesson plans, lesson plans that I could be really proud of. Then the next day in class those wonderful lessons would bomb. That’s when I learned to have emergency lesson plans and activities ready so that I could just switch gears when I need to and continue merrily on. One day a thought came to me- sometimes my students get in the way of my wonderful lessons. If it wouldn’t be for those students, those lessons would be wonderful. Then I have a good laugh. Because, well … I find it helps not to take oneself too seriously. I love finding the irony in things. It’s a wonderful coping mechanism.

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15 Responses to “Respect in the classroom is a two way street”

  1. Mathew on August 11th, 2007 2:23 am

    Sometimes this doesn’t work though as teachers try to get to know students superficially at the beginning of the year. I prefer to think of the year as a marathon rather than a sprint and know that over the course of the year I will get to know my students and them me. It’s much more meaningful for me to get to know them by listening and observing their interests rather than having them fill out a bingo card ice breaker or something like that on the first day of school. I teach second grade so things might be different for me. I just get the sense that many teachers think getting to know students is something you do just at the beginning of the year and students can see right through that.

  2. Elona on August 11th, 2007 9:45 am

    Thanks for your insightful comments. You are absolutely right when you say that getting to know the students should be a year long activity and not just a intro fill- out -the -bingo card day one activity. Because I am a special education teacher/student success teacher, I see the same group of kids for most of their time in high school. I either teach them in my class or monitor them in other classes to give them support, and because I get to know them I can be an advocate for them with other teachers.

    Kids also need to get to know their teachers so they can have a positive relatonship that’s good for both the teacher and the students. I have heard it said many times that even just one positive relationship with a teacher makes all the difference. Imagine how important teachers are in a students life!

    As for teaching second grade, it is different but I think the kids’ emotional needs in your grade two class are just the same as the kids in my grade nine class. When I read report card comments written by primary grade teachers, I’m amazed that the teachers know the kids so well.

    I really respect primary grade teachers. They are so important because they set the stage for the rest of a kids’ school experience and beyond. I have often said that more support, money and resources should be put into the primary grades. Classes need to be much smaller so teachers can give more individual attention to the students.

    Some kids can learn despite everything, but some can’t and need TLC. We need to build kids not repair teenagers. It’s really hard , but not impossible, to help kids when they are in high school because the destructive habits are pretty well set and the peer group is so influential. That’s why primary teachers are so important. They can and often do help students nip problems in the bud.

    That’s not to say that it’s all up to the teacher. As we all know, parents have a huge influence on kids and their attitude toward teachers and school. Parents sometimes pass on their negative attitudes about school and teachers on to their kids. That just makes our job harder.

  3. Tracy Rosen on August 18th, 2007 6:34 pm

    Elona, thank you for this post.

    I completely agree with you. I have worked with teachers in the past who demand respect from their students just because they are teachers and I could never understand the rationale beyond continuing a – to risk using an old term I haven’t used since I was in my undergrad English lit classes – master/slave script.

    I prefer to have conversations with my students – and to get to know them throughout the year, not just on the first day or so as Matthew warns against. When I’m lucky I even continue to get know them after I’ve finished teaching them! That is when I feel I am successful.

    I know I need to earn my students’ respect. It is the biggest part of my job.

    I found you because I am starting a new position in a few weeks – developing an alternative program for kids who have the potential to fall through traditional cracks, so I’m starting to seek out resources to turn to as I make my way.
    I’m glad I found you.

  4. john on August 18th, 2007 6:38 pm

    dear Elona, I have come across your blogg whilst searching for ideas about classroom respect. I am having real trouble with it. The most powerful and difficult students in my class are likely to swear at me or push me if they don’t like being told what to do. I need some practical advice helps flesh out your ideas. Some methods to catch and maintain that student respect you spoke of. Of course it would be my intention to give and get that respect, but i have missed the mark………any ideas?? what do you DO to win that respect??

  5. Elona on August 18th, 2007 10:49 pm

    Tracy and John,
    Thank you so much for having the courage to ask the questions you both have. What I’ll do in the next couple of days or so is put together a post describing how I develop a respectful classroom. I should be able to do this by Wednesday so check back at that time.

  6. Tracy on August 21st, 2007 5:22 am

    I’m looking forward to reading your ideas.

    Do you know of Origins? It is a program that was originally developed as the Responsive Classroom for elementary school and has been adapted as Developmental Designs for middle school, though I certainly see applications for high school as well.

    I’m reading a lot about it as I prepare to return to the classroom. It seems like good common sense stuff to have in my pedagogical mix.

  7. Elona on August 21st, 2007 7:30 am

    Thanks for the heads-up about Origins. I’ll take a look at it. I have found that there’s lots of good stuff in the elementary and middle school panels that we could adapt for high school. In particular, I’m thinking of the First Steps program that became Stepping Out at the secondary level. I think there should be more cross-panel discussion and sharing.

  8. Precious on May 20th, 2008 11:35 pm

    So what exactly have the students done to earn our respect from day one? We can’t just start off suggesting to the students that it’s okay to be disrespectful because they don’t think we are worthy. What happened to common sense?

  9. Elona Hartjes on May 21st, 2008 5:47 am

    Thanks for taking the time to leave a comment.

    What have students done to earn respect from day one? They get respect because they are a person. For me it’s as simple as that.

    I hear what you are saying about respect. I think that respecting a student first means you do not prejudge him or her because she’s in a certain program or has a certain label. I sometimes hear teachers talking negatively about kids because they are in a certain class or come from a certain family. I think a lack of respect is to prejudge them and kids can detect that in a second as they walk in the door. How do I know this?Kids come and tell me about their teachers at the beginning of every semester.

    I think that kids sometimes kids behave themselves in my class at first without really respecting me as a person.They might behave because they respect the office. I think that for some kids to respect me as a person takes time. Some kids are not quick to give a teacher respect as a person. That takes time and that takes me reaching out to them first by showing them respect as a person.

    My approach works for me. It’s not the only approach. It’s just mine. If your happy and look forward to being in the classroom with your students and positive learning gos on, and your approach is different that’s ok. Go for it.My common sense tells me that since my approach works for me, I should continue it. I’m delighted with the results

  10. Tracy Rosen on August 5th, 2008 11:22 pm

    This post is timeless, Elona. Thanks for reminding me about it 🙂

  11. Property India on March 7th, 2011 12:22 am

    A large part of ESL classroom management starts with respect; and that is a two-way street, where you respect EACH OTHER. Management of disrespectful children is difficult enough, let alone with a language barrier, but if you handle yourself with calm and authority you will be on the right road without having to resort to anger or harshness.

  12. Barbara on September 27th, 2012 4:41 am

    Normally I do not read post on blogs, however I would like to say that this write-up very pressured me to take a look at and do it! Your writing style has been amazed me. Thanks, very great post.

  13. Alvaro on March 11th, 2013 8:40 am

    Hi Elona,
    I understand what you say in your post and it is quite inspirational but, at the same time I am somehow critic with it. Respect is a life lesson and you apply it to everyone. Once a student has experienced this lesson once, he or she should undertand that applies for everyone and everywhere as a human being. (Otherwise we didn’t teach them anything). So not every single teacher or adult who is interacting with these students has to teach the students the lesson again… I guess we are pointing too much to the teachers and adults and, again, leaving the kids without another important skills to learn such as responsibility or stick to their believes. Summarazing, if things are as you say and that is the way we teach respect, they should learn the first time that respect is for everyone and forever so next teacher doesn’t have to earn it again. This sort of skills, once learned never go away.
    Thank you anyway and, of course, open to different opinions

  14. Elona Hartjes on March 11th, 2013 10:00 am

    Alvaro, Yes one would think that once a child has learned respect that the child would continue to be respectful to all adults. It may be the case that some students have not learned to respect teachers by the time I teach them in grade nine but I think that students have been taught how to be respectful well before they are 14 years old. I think some students do not want to be respectful. It’s the challenge to get all students to want to be respectful. Students do not automatically respect teachers because teachers are teachers. Those days seem to be long gone in Canadian and America. The question is why do some students choose not to be respectful to teachers?

  15. Lindsay on August 23rd, 2013 8:46 pm

    Thanks Elona. What you say is so true. The golden rule has always been what I come back to time and time again.

    I like to remind myself of the saying, “They won’t care how much you know till they know how much you care.” Casting my mind back to my own school days, I remember working hard for teachers we thought cared about us and stonewalling teachers we thought were arrogant, snobbish, and who used force to push their message. I don’t think that has changed much.

    I believe students who are really doing it tough at home or away from school, need extra emotional support. Before they can learn anything, they must feel good about themselves. Teachers can play essential roles in building students to the point where they are ready to learn. I have learned not to assume that every student is ready when I think they should be.

    Would you mind if I copied this post to my own blog? I’m sure what few readers I do have would really appreciate your thoughts and hopefully will want to subscribe to your blog, as I have. As I’m new to blogging, I still have to work out how to actually do this, so please bear with me.


    Lindsay (The Hugsman)the
    Lindsay´s last blog post ..Balancing The Ledger with Dysfunctional Youth

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