Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Don't Turn Your Back

One of my favorite things about visiting our schools in the South is how polite the students are.  Today, during our focus groups in South Carolina, the middle school boys I talked with peppered their responses with "Yes, sir"s and "No, sir"s. They shook my hand on the way in and the way out. They looked me in the eye when they answered. They interrupted each other in the excitement to give answers, but never interrupted me, and always stopped talking over each other when I asked them to.

One of the questions I asked about was respect for teachers.  In this particular school, the total in agreement for "Teachers respect students" on their My Voice survey was 43%.  Interestingly, on the My Voice staff survey, the total in agreement for "Students respect me" was 84%.  This gap in perception is actually not atypical.  Teachers perceive more respect from students than students say actually exists.

When I asked the students what respectful behavior towards a teacher looked like, they described the same overt behaviors I experienced:  Being polite, following teacher instructions, not disrupting the class.  When I asked what disrespectful behavior toward a teacher looked like, they described why there is a gap in perception on this issue: Making faces after a teacher leaves, eye rolls when they turn their back, cussing at a teacher under your breath so students can hear but not the teacher. Respect is what happens to a teacher's face, disrespect is what happens behind her back.

I guess that is not so surprising. Besides never turning our back on students, what is to be done? Modeling is a start. Stephen Covey writes about the importance of "Loyalty to those who are not present." How are teachers with that? Another solution is to build relationships with students.  Students are not disrespectful to teachers they believe respect and care about them.  In fact, they report getting on other students who are disrespectful to such teachers.

When students become your allies in correcting unwanted behaviors it no longer matters if your back is turned.

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