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Respect in the Classroom: Earned, Not Expected

There was a sub for one of my paras a couple of weeks ago and she set up shop in my classroom. We went through the day as usual, with her thoroughly enjoying her role after being out of the classroom for the past few years. At the end of the day, as I was thanking her for all she had done, the bell rang and a steady stream of kids began filtering into my room for their afterschool hugs and check-ins. As I loved on each one and celebrated the successes of their day, I didn’t realize that the sub was taking it all in. As the crowd thinned out and I began packing up for the day, the sub asked if “that” happened every day. I told her yes, and that “it” also happened in the morning before school began. She just smiled and told me how lucky those kids were to have someone in their lives that invested so much in them, even if they weren’t my students. She added that their actions spoke volumes about the respect they had for me. I smiled at her but had to interject that it was I who respected the kids. She looked a bit confused, but nodded her head and left.
Just because I am the grown-up in the classroom does not automatically create respect for me from kids. Shocking, I know.  I also know many teachers who do not go by this philosophy and just expect kids to show them respect no matter what. We need to understand that we are teaching PEOPLE; LITTLE PEOPLE and that just because we are older, bigger, wiser and degreed DOES NOT entitle us to be respected. Respect is earned, from both sides, even when it comes to kids.
Respect is earned, from both sides, even when it comes to kids Click To Tweet
If we approach our students like a dictator, not giving them choices or not viewing them as worthwhile of our time, how are we to ever teach the life skills that are waning from being taught at home?
Respect is loosely defined as ‘treating someone else how you want to be treated.’ When I walk into my classroom I treat my students the way I want them to treat me. I speak to them with kind words. I look them in the eyes when I’m talking to them. I ask them questions about their mornings before school. I make sure that they feel appreciated and loved and cared for and, above all, worthwhile. I do not berate them. I do not speak crossly to them. I do not create the expectation that I am in charge and that they should do as I say simply because I am the adult. All of the behaviors I want, come from them knowing that I truly want them to be a presence in my day, not because I throw my authority around.
We must meet our students where they are, whether that be as they come in happy, with satisfied stomachs, ready to learn, or if they come to us after being screamed at by their grown- ups, made to feel worthless and stupid. We need to remember that behaviors, positive AND negative, show up in how students are handled. For some, school is their safe place. That’s where we need to give them a clean slate, a feeling of justice and, to a point, equality. Creating a school day where students are continually belittled and not seen as important only reinforces the negative behaviors that we so want to be rid of.
As teachers enter their school day, we need to be aware of the struggles that our kids have been through prior to entering our building. Expecting respect without demonstrating it only sets them up for future failures. Be good role models for your students and they will provide you with everything you want from them, especially the respect we so want from them.

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