In one of the classes that I am taking this semester, the question was asked: “What do you think are necessary attitudes for being an effective teacher?” I wrote that the biggest, most important attitude a teacher should have in the classroom is one of respect, followed by patience and flexibility. I received this response:
“I also think that respect is important but I also think that you need to be in control and not be ran over. I have seen an incident where an aide asked a child to sit down and stop playing and the child said, ‘What about my rights as a kid? Adults think they are so much better.’ There are children the respect can be given because it is earned. I wish they were all that way.”
If you have been reading this blog for any length of time, you know that response is going to rub me the wrong way. But it brings up an important distinction that I believe needs to be made, especially in the world of discipline.
Respect, as defined by dictionary.com, is “esteem for or a sense of the worth or excellence of a person, a personal quality or ability, or something considered as a manifestation of a personal quality or ability.” This is not to be confused with assertiveness, which dictionary.com defines as “being confidently aggressive or self-assured; positive.”
Respect is showing someone that you value them as a person. It means valuing them enough to try to make an emotional connection with them. It means valuing their emotions enough to try to find the root cause of any altercation so that the issue can be completely resolved in the minds of both children, whether they were the initial aggressor or not. It means valuing their intelligence enough to know that any request that has as its reason: “because I said so” or “because I am the teacher” is going to rub children the wrong way because it means that their actions are determined solely by your whims. It puts children in the position of being beneath the teacher, rather than working with the teacher. Children are below teachers in stature and development, but that doesn’t mean that they should be put in the position where they feel they are being subjected to our arbitrary whims. When we respect and value children, we give them real meaning for what we are asking them to do:
“It’s time to clean up because it is time to go outside (or lunch time, or time for mommy to come).”
“Use your walking feet in the classroom because running inside is not safe. You will trip and fall and bump your head.”
It is not hard to find real meaning for the things we ask children not to do (or to do). When we find the reason, we need to use it – especially in those cases where reason becomes reality: someone ran in the classroom, tripped, and bumped their head. Then we can refer back to our reason: “This is why we don’t run in the classroom – because we will trip and fall and bump our heads. It hurts, doesn’t it?” Pointing out that it hurts when we don’t follow directions will highlight that aspect of it, but even highlighting it needs to be done in a respectful manner. Anyone would be turned off by an “I told you so” tone. When we point out the infraction in a matter-of-fact way, we are showing the child respect and bringing their attention to the fact that they would have been safer had they followed directions. But most people are stubborn in that they tend to learn more from experience than from advice.
Our classrooms should be based on reason, if for no other reason than we are teaching children to think. Using sound reasons for why children should behave a certain way shows them that we uphold them as thinking human beings. It does not insult their intelligence, but gives them a foundation on which to make connections and see a bigger picture for themselves.