Loose Ends: Earning students’ respect

dollyviscardiTalk about one-room schoolhouses or teaching school in the “olden days” and someone is sure to mention the fourth “r” that was part of every school’s curriculum — respect. All the years I was teaching school, the one question I was asked every year before school began was “How do you get respect from these kids today?” My answer never varied — “I earned it.”
Facing a classroom of children each year, each teacher learns about her students’ strengths and weaknesses as soon as possible. I admit that our society has gotten lax about its behavioral expectations. We don’t expect much from each other, so I don’t know how we can have much faith in children learning how important it is to respect other people.
One elderly gentleman finished up an interview about growing up in the White River Valley by reminding me the most important life lesson he gained from attending school.
“We knew what was what, I’ll tell you. You toed the line with the teacher or you would get into trouble at home as well.”
It didn’t matter if you went to school in a small country school or the schools in the town, discipline described more than punishment, it encompassed the whole classroom experience. Many first-year schoolteachers in the one-room schoolhouses weren’t long out of the classroom themselves.
Quite a few of them mentioned the importance of setting high expectations for behavior, along with building a strong relationship with trust. While a few talked about the importance of “getting the students to like you,” they still maintained the mantle of authority so that the teacher-student relationship was successful. They soon learned that respect for their authority followed suit.
The word “respect,” in relationship to the school setting, not only addresses the need for developing strong interpersonal skills, but in honoring the needs of others. Sometimes it does seem as if most of us could benefit from a refresher class in respect. Maybe attending our children’s and grandchildren’s first days of school alongside them might help. Readin’, ritin’, ‘rithmatic and respect — all important lessons in any good school curriculum.