November 16, 2016
*Names in the following post have been changed.
Respect is overrated. In fact, at times, it is quite inconsequential. I can think of several nouns I would rather have from someone than the ‘R’ word; peace and love naturally come to mind. Unfortunately, our world is sorely lacking in all three.
When I was younger (much, much younger), I was fond of saying that I would rather my colleagues respect me than like me. And I have always been confident enough in my skills to ensure that my coworkers would do just that: respect me. Boy was I wrong!
For the past year, I have noticed a definite shift in the attitude of my students, collectively as well as individually. There is certainly more bullying and less kindness on display in my classroom. Indeed, I have oftentimes pointed this out to my most unruly classes. The school year is nearly half over and I have finally gotten my students to take me seriously. I’ve had to prove myself over and over again to not only earn their trust, but, yes, their respect as well. But as any teacher of middle school students knows, it’s one step forward, two steps back. And sometimes it’s not my students that are tripping me backwards; it’s my fellow educators.
There are certain male teachers at school who seem to command respect by their mere presence. Something about a deep, throaty voice and a six foot frame that registers with middle school kids. I was always able to put the fear of God in my own children with my “look”, but it never quite worked with this bunch of students. I’ve even ventured to ask my students why they behave for Mr. Down-the-Hall but not for me. I’m not going to tell you their answers, but I’ve come up with a few of my own.
We live in a male dominated society. Like it or not, men are valued more than women. I try to not let that bother me, but it does. It especially bothers me when Mr. Down-the-Hall undermines my authority in front of my students. Instead of accusing me of dismissing my students before the bell rings, why can’t Mr. Down-the-Hall wait until there are no students around, mine or his, and ask me what happened that my students left early? Why? Because if Mr. Down-the-Hall had waited to ask me what happened, instead of accusing me of letting my students out early, I would have told him that as soon as I turned my back, my students (all but two) rushed the door and were halfway to the bus before I even knew they were gone.
These same students would never deign to pull such a stunt with Mr. Down-the-Hall, they’re too afraid of him. Alas, I am envious of the fear he commands. “If I could just have a teeny bit of whatever he has…” I muse, and sometimes cry. And today was one of those days.
Today was one of those, “I am sick to death of putting up with the lack of respect from pipsqueak, prepubescent would-be reprobates!” And Mr. Down-the-Hall just added to my frustration. I willed myself to stay angry to stave off the tears. “I will not cry on my way home. I will not cry on my way home. I will not cry on my way home.” Then I began to think.
I began to question where I had gone wrong. When had I begun to be ineffective? When had I lost the respect of my charges, if in fact, I ever had it? All I ever really wanted was respect. Respect, respect, respect. My respect mantra was still looping through my mind when I stopped at Panda Express to pick up tonight’s dinner. My anger began to subside (the anticipation of food often does that to me) and I began to soothe my soul.
Instead of telling myself what I didn’t have from my students, I began to tell myself what I did. I have my students’ trust; they trust me to lead them in the right direction. I have my students’ laughter; they not only laugh at me, they laugh with me. I have my students’ love; they love me even when I don’t think they do. And as if on cue, I see one of my students, standing in line behind me, with her family. I was pretty sure she hadn’t seen me, and I didn’t want to embarrass her, so I was going to pay for my food and quietly slip out the door. It was enough for me to know that I was making a difference in my students’ lives. And, hey, at my age, I can STILL improve my character, I can stop the tears AND the anger, and I CAN be good to myself. Yea me! What had started out as a miserable evening was turning into a pretty good night. And it was just about to get even better.
Lost in thought and heading for the Panda Express exit, I almost missed my student stepping out of line and heading right toward me. She was walking with arms outstretched, smile on her lips, twinkle in her eye; my heart melted. I stopped and we enveloped each other in well-needed hug. We said, “Hi,” and “Bye,” and I was out the door. It was then that I finally let the tears flow freely down my cheeks. To hell with respect, my students LOVE me. And that, dear Readers, is what makes the world go ’round.