The secret of education lies in respecting the Pupil.  Ralph Waldo Emerson

Mr. Emerson had it right…but I struggle with why it has to be a secret.  Does respecting students have to be something that only some people know and many don’t talk about?   

I remember talking with a teacher several years ago who was exceptional in developing great teacher/student relationships.  He had very few (if any) problems with the students who were seen in the office frequently. I asked him why he didn’t struggle with student behavior when others did.  He said: “I try to over-respect students.” Wow! Why did he say “over”? I think he did it very intentionally.

Why should we respect students more (more than we may want to and even more than students respect us)?  I can think of a few reasons:

  • Students are children…they are still developing.  We are adults. We can’t expect students to do something that we are not willing to do ourselves.  Children can see through hypocrisy in a heartbeat. We must earn the right to have expectations and we do that by understanding we must model what we expect.
  • Respect is not a game.  “Sure, I’ll go first, but if you don’t reciprocate with showing me respect, I’m done showing you my respect.”  If this is your mindset, please reconsider…and maybe remember a time when you received grace that you didn’t deserve.
  • Adults already have more authority.  The systems, structures, and laws, provide for that.  When you play the authority card, “because I’m in charge” you actually dig your respect deficit just a little bit deeper.  If you have to tell people you’re in charge, you likely are not. “Being powerful is like being a lady.  If you have to tell people you are, you aren’t.” – Margaret Thatcher
  • Having good relationships with students are essential to having the ability to teach at high levels.  You can only have good relationships if there is mutual respect. That starts and ends with the adult.
  • The power of your words are immense.  Many of our students are hurting and/or are struggling with their emotions and perceptions of themselves.  The little pieces of kindness and respect given to children can make a world of difference in their lives. 

Understand, I am not advocating for being a pushover or bending to the desires and misbehaviors of your students.  The students in the classes of the teacher I mentioned above were engaged and positive participators. However, our students always deserve to be respected, even if they haven’t earned it YET.  When we approach all students (even the most difficult) with unwavering respect, we have the best chance to develop a meaningful relationship with them.

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I am a proud public school teacher who serves as a district administrator supporting all aspects of leadership and learning.

One thought on “Over-Respect

  1. I love this post!! I’m a teacher (and parent of kids in your school district.) As a student, my favorite teachers were always the ones who developed relationships with us and then we were just naturally more engaged in learning. One of my secondary education methods professors in college started the class off rough and mean and waited until the break to tell us it was an act. He said that is how our students will feel if we treat them harshly. I have never forgotten that! I want my students to know that they are cared for, first and foremost, and it’s amazing the learning that follows! Thanks for sharing this!

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