Respect Is Expected Especially From Teachers
by Jill Jenkins
Recently I observed a mother bellowing demands and insults at her weeping teenage daughter. The girl was inundated by a torrent of demands, insults and belittling comments about her father. Like all who experienced this tirade I felt extremely uncomfortable and had a difficult time making eye contact with the teen crumpled against the wall stifling sobs. When one person injures another, everyone is injured. Pain is contagious. Sadly as an educator, I have watched teachers berate students in a similar fashion. Schools teach more than reading, writing and deciphering. More important skills like respect should be taught. First, respect needs to be modeled by every adult in the school. Second, respecting the cultures, customs and religious beliefs is essential. Third, teachers need to be sensitive to the students' socioeconomic struggles.
When a teacher berates a student before a class of students, not only is that student humiliated, but the entire class feels that humiliation. When I started teaching, the teacher in the next classroom screamed and berated his students daily. Not only did his student transfer out in droves, but my students reacted in silent terror during each of his tirades. Because we both taught the same class, my class grew and his shrank until I had over 60 students and he had less than 20. When the counselors balanced the class size, those sent to his room were angry. Ten years later I met one of those students at jury duty, she was still angry that "I had given her away to that man." Scars from verbal abuse last forever.
Treating students with dignity models behavior and helps students develop skills to get along with the diverse, an important life skill. If we want out students to have people skills to be successful, we need to demonstrate respectful ways to treat others. Modes of communication can greatly affect students. I find that calling students "Miss Jones" or "Mr. Chavez" increases the likelihood that they will call me "Mrs. Jenkins." When a teacher faces an angry student or parent use the calm collected voice the airlines employees use. "I am sorry you are upset, but your assignment is due today. " If the students continue to argue with you, keep your composure and repeat the line like a broken record. Do not raise your voice or berate any human being, Sometimes students need to vent. First remove them from the prying eyes of their peers (a hallway or an office), begin calmly, "You don't seem to be yourself today. Is something wrong?" I don't know how many times I've had a student burst into tears and share some devastating home tragedy. Sometimes students just need a sympathetic ear. Don't be afraid to adjust a due date to help a child who is having a personal tragedy. That is money in the emotional bank, an investment in the emotional intelligent of a young adult. Acknowledge the child's situation and negotiate a reasonable alternative that doesn't excuse him from the responsibility, but enables him to complete the work successfully. As for the classroom attorney who interrupts every lesson to support a peer. You could either brush him off with some glib comment like, "I meet with attorneys at 5 P.M. on Wednesday," or for a more successful result take that student into the hall and ask him for a favor. If he could help you by using his leadership skills to make his peers more responsible all of the students will benefit and his help would be greatly appreciated. You will bolster his self esteem and he will use those skills to help others, a win-win situation.
Disrespecting a students' culture, customs, or religious beliefs is the fastest way to alienate a student. To alleviate any inadvertent errors, teachers' training should include information about cultures, customs and beliefs of potential students. Teachers also need to be aware of their own prejudices and develop skills to prevent those prejudices from affecting their communications with students. Since most inner city schools have diverse populations, this training needs to cover a diverse assortment of cultures, customs and religious beliefs. The students' generations also creates a variety of differences in tastes in music, literature, and films from those enjoyed by the teacher. Belittling those values also negatively impacts the child. Respecting and embracing those differences can help students bond with their teacher. Encourage students to share their views on books, music, and film. Open yourself to the view their tastes and oppinions without ever berating their choices. My father as a boy loved comic books and used his earnings from mowing lawns to purchase and enjoy a plethora of them. His step-father didn't share his enthusiasm and called him "a stupid and lazy boy for wasting his time and money" before tossing all of his prized comic books. His step-father didn't change my father's opinion of comic book, but created a rift between them and my father loathed him. Belittling what others value degrades everyone and closes the doors to communication.
Finally many students from lower socioeconomic groups may not have the resources of students in upper middle class homes. Never create projects that separate the "haves" from the "have-nots". Be sensitive to the students who attend school all day and work full time jobs to help support their families. For example, one year I taught a student who lived in a homeless shelter with his father. He owned one pair of jeans, one t-shirt, his gym clothes and a pair of athletic shoes. Every day the gym teacher allowed him to come early, shower and brush his teeth while he washed and dried his clothing, Other students knew nothing of this students situation because the teacher helped him solve his life problem without losing face. That is respect.
The mother who disrespected her daughter may have been frustrated or angry. Perhaps she was just having a bad day. As a teacher interact with student in a more positive way. Don't allow frustration or anger to waste valuable teaching time. Passions often run strong when interacting with adolescents. Be certain to use that passion to teach positive ways to communicate respectfully. Respect is expected especially from the teacher.