Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Who Cares?

Once again I learned something new from a student recently.

Let's start with what I had already learned from students: In the reciprocal relationship that is respect between a teacher and a student - I respect you, if you respect me - the adult has to go first. I have heard teachers say, "I don't give respect until I get respect" or "When kids show me respect, that's when I respect them." I always think they will be waiting a long time. Maybe it's my age, but at 50+ I am not waiting around for some 13 year-old (I have neckties that are older) to respect me before I show them respect. Even students in focus groups get it that the adult has to start.

The fact of the matter is, there is no way to disrespectfully teach someone who is disrespectful to respect you. The only way to teach respect, to get another person who is being disrespectful to respect you, is to respect them in spite of their disrespect. It turns out that when someone treats you respectfully, even if you disrespect them, they come to learn what real respect is and to then treat you with respect. Teacher respect for students must be a constant even in the face of variable respect from students.

But I already knew that.

The other day a student said something similar regarding caring about his education.  In a focus group I had asked what encouraged students to care about their education. After exploring positive answers, I flipped it: What discourages you? A student said, "When a teacher doesn't care about my education." I asked him to explain. He said, "Sometimes you're down on your self and you don't care about school or getting good grades or even finishing school. And so you're not doing well and some teacher says to you, 'Hey, this is your education. I don't care if you do well or not. I get paid either way.' Well, that makes you care even less when they say they don't care."

The fact of the matter is you cannot get a student who doesn't care about school to care by saying you don't care either. Just as with respect, the only way to get a student who doesn't care about school to care is to care in spite of their not caring. Teacher's care for each student's education must be a constant even in the face of their variable care about their own education.

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