Find out what it means to me
Aretha Franklin’s song lyrics have been ruminating through my mind over the last week or so. Respect can be hard to pin down and define, but it is definitely noticed when it is not present!
I have a challenging little fellow in my class this term who seems to have no idea of even the beginnings of respect. For the sake of privacy and anonymity, I will refer to him as Student B.
Respect is a two-way thing in the classroom. As a teacher, I try to show my respect to the students by treating them fairly and consistently, by listening to them, by minimising their embarrassment over mistakes or accidents and expecting them to have-a-go. Respect for my students is me saying ‘You are somebody. You matter.’
Students show respect when they look, when they listen, when they follow instructions, when they are not answering back or ‘in your face’. Respect from a student shows an openness to learning and a willingness to try something new or different. Student B rarely looks, rarely tries and rarely listens. He then expects my full attention when he wants it. His lack of respect makes him selfish and rude. Add in a strong sense of entitlement, and potentially this child will find it hard to learn to his full capacity.
So where do we learn respect? For ourselves and for others? Surely we learn this at home and through interactions with our primary caregivers?
I watched Student B leave after school the other week. He ran to his mother, dumped his bag, jumper and drink bottle on her and then reached up and ruffled her ears much like one would ruffle a dog’s ears. She just beamed at him, like he could do no wrong. Until she saw me and then looked mildly embarrassed. Student B just grinned when he noticed me watching him. I was shocked. My own three children would have been swatted away with a scowl and told ‘I’m your mother, not your wrestling buddy!’ if they had tried this with me.
Student B’s arrival in my class has prompted some social skills lessons. The other week we learnt about personal space and I had my students role play scenarios where someone got too close to them. They had to practise saying ‘Stop it. I don’t like it!’ and ‘You’re too close. Move back!’ The challenge is to have offenders, like Student B, respect other people’s wishes. Student B has learned that Mrs G doesn’t like fish lips with kissing noises inches from her face. He is learning too that my no means no.
In an effort to understand him a little more, and get his mother alongside in terms of his learning, I set up a meeting with her, another teacher and a first language aide. It certainly provided some insights. His mother agreed that Student B likes to be first, the loudest and the best and that he is not shy about doing so. She mentioned that he didn’t begin talking in his first language until he was three years old which may explain his reluctance with speaking. When we asked her to allow him to take more responsibility for his own things and for things at home, she seemed to understand. But she may have a hard time following through. It is hard to break some habits.
Despite the meeting with his mum, Student B will continue to have his challenges. I cannot force him to respect me but I can put in place my boundaries and expectations. He will learn and is already learning. I almost laughed, but not with joy, more with exasperation, when I heard his first English sentence this week. He was jostling with some boys about where to stand in line and came out with –
‘I am number one!’