Monday, October 8, 2007


Respect -- isn't it a slippery term? I mean, you know it when you aren't getting it, but how can you describe it, really? I've had many conversations with my students about respect and what respectful behavior looks like -- I've certainly brought it to their attention when they are acting disrespectfully. But I don't think I've really talked to them about what respect is and what you're really showing when you are respectful towards another person. Respectful behavior can mean so many different things, and it often depends on the actual people involved and their individual needs.

As I see it, respect simply means allowing space and understanding for another individual. Recognizing when someone needs to be listened to, understanding the amount of work they have put into a task, speaking to them in a way that shows your understanding for their particular circumstance -- these are all examples of respectful behavior.

So what is disrespectful behavior? When a student rips up his beautifully calligraphied nametag that his teacher labored over in the summer -- that's disrespectful. When a student continually talks to a friend when the teacher is explaining something -- that's disrespectful. When a student talks back when his teacher tries to encourage him towards proper classroom behavior -- that's disrespectful.

Clearly, disrespect is so much more tangible than respect.

Why the treatise on respect? Today I sent a student home for disrespectful behavior. Today in main lesson on four different occasions this student spoke to me in disrespectful ways. He talked back when I corrected his behavior; he argued when I suggested he change something on his test; he said, "Do you have a problem with it?" when explaining his behavior; and then argued that I was being unnecessarily harsh on him for one disrespectful comment.

Though every teacher I spoke with at school said this was absolutely warranted, even overdue for this child, it is hard not to question my own actions. Am I being as sensitive to his needs as I could be? Do I need to work harder at "finding the backdoor" to influencing his behavior? What is he really asking for?

Though I know that his behavior was unacceptable, no matter what my actions were, there's no way around the fact that respect is a two way street. You give a little you get a little. I'll try to give a little more tomorrow.

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