Posts Tagged ‘respect’

While a great deal of press has been given to The 55 Essentials, I would encourage you that unless you are that particular teacher of the year, much fewer will probably be sufficient. When trying to write rules, several teachers I know have tried to cover every aspect of student behavior. They think of all their own personal pet peeves and the things that students traditionally do wrong, compiling them into one monstrous list. There is one major problem with this: Students are varied and seemingly eternally creative.

You doubt? A demonstration, then. In one of my early years of teaching, I had three rules, conveniently starting with the same letter: Responsibility, Relationship, and Respect. I had explained to my students that these were to govern our time together. I expected them to be responsible: bringing supplies to class, doing their homework, and being punctual. Then, I pointed out that there were certain things that were necessary merely because we were in relationship with each other, explaining that there were things I couldn’t let one student do because not everyone could do them. Finally, I explained that I expected them to act respectfully towards themselves, their classmates, and me. These three rules could be applied to every situation. If, however, I had made the typical rules like “Don’t chew gum,” “Bring two #2 pencils to class,” etc., this situation would have been allowed:

It was the year of the Winter Olympics, so many of my junior high students were watching the events. As I was enthralling my class with tales from history, I looked over, and what to my wondering eyes did appear, but one of my students in his seat with his knees under his chin, calculatingly moving from side to side. “What are you doing, Nate?” I inquired.

“I’m bobsledding.” He replied, most innocently.

Never would my rules have naturally included things like, “Do not participate in Olympic Sports using your desk as equipment,” “Don’t practice invisible instruments in class,” “Don’t make sound effects for imaginary animals,” “Do not light matches and stick them on your person,” or “Do not lay on your stomach and spin on the library tables.” [Note: I have said all of these to students.] So, you see, less is really more. Pick a few rules which address character (I currently use the Code of Chivalry, as my classroom is now decorated like a Medieval Castle) and apply these to the situations in your class. (Note: As I am predominately a middle and high school teacher, I will say that little ones may need more specifics. Just please don’t insult your seniors’ intelligence with “hands to yourself” type rules.)


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This one took me a long time to debunk. If you are an insecure person, and let’s face it, most of us are when we begin teaching, the first time a person is disrespectful of your authority, it will throw you for a loop. Having my head packed full of exciting lessons and textbook examples of classroom management, I was stunned the first time someone was disrespectful of me. I internalized it. In my mind, if I was worthy of respect, they would respect me, so if they didn’t, it must be something I did. I spent months, running into years, before I realized that kids are naturally disrespectful, and as I said previously, you have to earn their respect. Finally, I was able to stop beating myself up and truly take the authority that was rightfully mine. I realized that I didn’t have to tolerate disrespect, and even beyond that, I didn’t deserve disrespect.

Now, let me take a moment to stress again: Respect is earned. It doesn’t come naturally. The weakest form of respect is positional. So, how do you earn respect? Honesty and Consistency. First of all, let’s consider honesty. Let your students be a part of your life. Tell them when you’re happy, sad, sick, going on vacation, having dinner with a friend, or attending a family birthday. One of the greatest times I have had as a teacher was the time surrounding the death of my dad about two months ago (as of writing–Father’s Day:  June 15, 2008). It was completely unexpected and happened in the middle of summer school when I was teaching the students I would have the upcoming fall. It was difficult for me, as I had only known them a week before my dad died, but when I returned to school, I made myself share with them, both who my dad was, my pain in losing him, and my pain in knowing that most of them didn’t have a dad like mine. It broke down amazing walls with them, and they were more sensitive than I could have imagined. I’ve met teachers that are so closed about their lives, they don’t want students knowing anything about them. This hardly engenders respect. Let them see you as a real person, and they will respect you. Obviously, there are lines with what you share, but in my opinion, an honest question deserves an honest answer, and boy, will they ask.

Secondly, Consistency is vital. First, let me release you: You will never be 100% consistent. You are, in fact, human, and as such, are prone to miss things, have bad days, or forget what you just told the previous student who asked. That being said, justice and fairness is something that students long for, and they look to you to establish it. Have a few basic rules that students know for a fact will be enforced every time. Apologize when you are out of line, or for those times when you have been inconsistent. A great book on this subject is Tools for Teaching by Fred Jones. He is an amazing instructor with a lot of insight, especially in the areas of establishing boundaries and being consistent.

Example as of posting:  On the last week of our 2016-2017 school year, a teacher I know lost her long-term boyfriend.  She is one who believes your personal life is not the kids’ business, so consequently shares very little about herself (to the point where she had told students she didn’t have a boyfriend despite their almost decade relationship.)  Then, when he died suddenly (as a man around 30), she was understandingly devastated.  I’m so grateful she chose to share her experience with the students.  Suddenly, kids who couldn’t stand her were crying with her–they saw her as a real person.  Those who had always liked her gave her hugs, words of encouragement, and added their tears to hers.  Yes, a few were still jerks, but for the most part, they were incredibly sensitive.  While I understand that personality may play a large role in this, I still tend to believe honest questions deserve honest answers, and being authentic is a great gift.

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This past week, I had two days of consecutive conversations with teenagers who were trying to navigate the baggage they had inherited from getting involved sexually at too young an age. It is one of my biggest frustrations that no one (or maybe not enough people) seems to be talking to these kids honestly about the choices they’re making, so that by the time they get to me, it is often too late.

The first instance was a young lady who came in to see me because she has sought my advice before. Just that Friday, she had come by at the football game and discussed a relationship with a guy. Knowing the guy she was “talking to,” I had warned her as explicitly as I could without telling his business. She assured me that they weren’t dating, but were “friends with benefits.” I explained to her that was worse. “Why?” she asked me, “What’s wrong with that?” I explained to her that being “friends with benefits” meant that she was willing to give herself away without any type of commitment on his part. She was completely devaluing herself. She agreed I was right, and shortly after, went away…

Tuesday, she came in to tell me “things had happened,” and now everyone knew about it and was calling her names, and she might have a disease–an incurable one. “I should have listened to you.” she said, “But, he promised me he was a virgin…” Of course he did. The whole school had heard rumors of everyone this guy’s been with. But, she believed him. And it may have affected the rest of her life.

We discussed how she couldn’t change the past, but she could learn from this. I explained that the most valuable lesson she could learn is to value herself–that her value doesn’t come from a beauty pageant or from an older guy paying attention to her–it is simply because of who she is. I gave her a hug, and she left.

The next day, the second girl came in. She came to talk to me because I had seen the scars on her arm from cutting. She explained that she was doing it because it made her ex-boyfriend pay attention to her. I asked her if she really wanted a relationship with someone who was only in it because he felt sorry for her. She said, “I don’t care why he’s with me, just so long as he is…” The back story on this girl is that she had given this guy her virginity because he kept bugging her. She finally said, “If I let you, will you shut up?” My heart broke when she’d told me that. I explained to her that the reason she felt so attached to this guy is that she had given him her virginity–that that act creates a powerful bond between people, and that’s why it is not to be given thoughtlessly. I explained to her that she needed her heart to be healed and that bond broken.

Two lives devastated by choices. I realize talking about sex is an awkward conversation to have. I also realize that everyone has to make the decision of when and if they are going to have sex, and that THEY have to make that decision. My challenge though–to parents, to teachers, and to adults who have conversations with young people is this: No one says, “I wish I’d been a bigger slut in high school.” But plenty of people say, “I wish I’d waited longer.” Please be honest with kids. Counsel them on the consequences of the choices they make. When appropriate, share your own experiences–even if they include regrets. It’s far easier to be awkward for a little bit than to pick up the pieces after the fact.

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I have often said that relationships are the keys to effective teaching. Apparently, it is also a key to stopping fights.

While some may not have the “opportunity” to even witness a fight, at our school, they are a fairly regular occurrence. Since I came, I have personally broken up over a dozen, so I average a couple a year. Today was one case in point. Here’s what happened:

I was at my desk between passing periods (usually I’m in the hall, but I was finishing up putting a few grades in.) when I heard raised voices in the hall. It’s normally loud in our hallway with about 200 seventh and eighth graders milling around about 50 yards of hallway, but this was a different sound. I rushed into the hallway and saw the circle forming around 2 girls who were yelling at each other. One was one of my eighth graders; the other a tenth grader. I immediately got in the middle of them. I asked the tenth grader what she was doing in this hallway, as the high school hallways are in a different part of the building. She ignored me and proceed to reach over my shoulder, put her hand in my eighth graders’ face, and push her away. Now, both girls are feisty Hispanics, and I knew immediately that pushing someone’s face meant my eighth grader was 2 seconds from swinging.

I put my arm out in between them, made eye contact with her and said, “NO! Go that way.” She immediately obeyed, so I was free to deal with the other girl, who I was able to grab and escort out of the hallway. She was still resisting and cussing, and eventually, I was able to get her to the office. I went back and pulled my eighth grader into my class until I could get her an escort to go to her class.

So, here’s the key: This eighth grader was someone I have spent a great deal of time caring about. She has struggled more than a lot of kids I know, and I was able to encourage her at some of her lower points. Because we had a relationship, seeing me in between her and her enemy overrode her natural instinct to start swinging. She told her next hour teacher, “I’m so glad Miss Brailey got in between us–I can’t afford to be in any more trouble.” Taking time to care about people may help you out when push comes to shove…literally.

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Strange as it may seem, there is a great deal of time in eighth grade English devoted to teaching the Holocaust. The Diary of Anne Frank is required reading for every eighth grader in some format (Ours is a play). The more I’ve taught, the less I’ve made it my mission to teach Anne Frank, and the more I’ve made it my mission to teach the lesson of the Holocaust: Don’t judge someone on the basis of anything other than who they are as a person. Notice I didn’t say don’t judge–But then again, neither did Martin Luther King, Jr. He (and I) said, “You’re going to judge people–it’s natural. But WHEN you judge, judge by character, not color of skin.” The challenge is how to explain that to a student in a way that sticks so that the horrors of the Holocaust are never repeated again. This is how I do it.

Day 1: I begin my lesson with a bit of background information: How World War I caused World War II by the treatment of Germany and the Kellogg–Briand pact. We give a bit of background on children in hiding, and then the fun starts.

Day 2: I show a video called “Survivors of the Shoah.” It is a free video available upon request from the Shoah Foundation. I’d encourage every History and English teacher to own one. (Show the actual video, not the 15 minute intro with Morgan Freeman.) It lays out the Holocaust better than anything I’ve ever seen. I tell my kids before we begin that the people they will see are not actors. The videos are not reenactments, but real news reels. I plead with them to listen to these people as REAL people, because that is what they are. I tell them to watch with a piece of paper so they can jot down what stands out to them or questions they have. Then, I press play. Most never tear their eyes from the screen. From that moment until I stop it, there is rarely a sound in the room–unless it is of someone sniffling (Several students cry every year.) or my explanation of something. It is my favorite day of the year. At the end, I explain that until you understand how bad something really is, you’ll never be mad enough to stop it. That concludes day 2.

Day 3: I begin with a quote attributed to Edmund Burke (It’s actually a paraphrase): The only thing necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing.” We discuss their questions from the day before. This year, a number of students asked whether slavery or the holocaust was worse, so we had the opportunity to compare (options, duration, brutality, value, etc…) But, I had a flash of inspiration of how to bring the message home to them. About 2/3 of our student population is Hispanic or Hispanic mixed, so the issue of immigration is a huge hot button for our students, many of whom have had family members deported. I decided this year to compare the Holocaust to the issue of Immigration, but the lesson can be brought home using the hot buttons in your area. Here’s what I said:

“Let’s look at the issue of immigration. What have we done? First, we identify I group of people. Then, we start to blame them for our problems: Hispanics are costing us our jobs. Hispanics are bringing drugs into our cities. Hispanics are bringing gang violence. Hispanics want to take over and drive us out. Have you heard these things? (They all nod.) Are they true? (There’s silence…) In some cases, yes. But of ALL Hispanics. No. But what do we do? We judge all Hispanics by the actions of some. Suddenly, ALL Hispanics are illegal. We brand them border hoppers. So we make laws against them. Do you see how this works? Pick a group, label them, attribute wrong to them, judge them for it, and make them pay…It’s an easy progression. It’s the same thing Hitler did. Most people never even stop to think. That’s why I’m challenging you with 2 things. First, BE EDUCATED. The first thing Hitler did was eliminate the 2000 smartest people and burn books with ideas against him. WHY? Because education is power. Educated people are the ones to see when something is going down and do something against it. Think for yourself. Second: Understand that everyone has an agenda for your life. I do, your parents do, MTV does, Apple does, your friends do, your enemies do. Everyone is trying to get you to do something. Ask yourself: What is this person trying to get me to do? and Is it right? Remember, the ONLY thing necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing. Don’t just let things happen. Stand against what’s wrong now, before it’s too late”

Then, we begin Anne Frank. I let them act out the play, and then we end the quarter with a movie about the Holocaust. All in all, amazing life lesson time!

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I had a rare opportunity today to teach a life lesson.  Just before Fall Break, my last hour class had left the computer lab a complete mess, so I decided they would not be allowed to use it the next day.  They had projects they were supposed to finish, so I knew this would be an inconvenience for them, but I wanted to teach them to respect property and follow directions.  So, I opted to have them write a 2 page paper on appropriate behavior in the lab.  Needless to say, that went over like a lead balloon–heightened by the fact that a number of students had missed the announcement informing them that they would have to make up their project on their own time, and their class is 8th hour.  They were on the verge of mass revolt.  By the time the dust settled, I had sent two kids to the office for refusing compliance and attitudes, and two more had only managed to remain in class when they found out the office made them do the same assignment I did.  Lots of grumbling ensued (Albeit mostly silently after 2 referrals), and then we left for fall break.

Which brings us to today.  I opened their hour today asking them what their options are when they feel like they are being treated unjustly.  “Get mad.” said the girl whose attitude got her a free pass to the office.  “How’d that work for you?”  I asked, and she smiled.  I proceeded to explain that we are not often treated the way we deserve.  For example, I am held accountable for my students ISTEP scores, when many of them refuse to try.  This is unfair.  Like them, I am penalized for something I didn’t do.  What ensued was a great life lesson where we were able to discuss their options when they disagree with an authority.  I explained how to ask a teacher to speak to you in the hallway (which takes the teacher off the defensive), how to offer solutions to a problem (Like cleaning the lab or silence while working), how to weigh when a situation is worth fighting about and when you need to just suck it up and do it, and finally, I discussed the fact that I don’t see having a bad attitude one day as indicative of a bad person.  What had been a negative situation which frustrated all of us turned into an opportunity to learn how to handle conflict in a respectful way.  The class completely turned around after that.     Often, all that is required is a bit of dialogue and any situation can be turned to your advantage.

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Regardless of your age, height, or physical attractiveness, there will come some point in time in your life when a student has a crush on you. These are especially difficult waters to navigate, but there are some guidelines which may be helpful. First, it is immensely important that I stress, you should in NO way encourage a crush. I have seen far too many talk shows about teachers being in inappropriate relationships with their students. But, that being said, you should also not see a crush as something that requires you to crush a student’s self esteem.

My best advice in dealing with crushes is this: accept the compliment, build self-esteem, laugh it off, and move on. Just today, I walked into the gym to give a student a contest form, and as students started calling my name, one student started clapping, and soon I received a round of applause just for walking across the gym. This will make anyone’s day. Then, however, one of my students felt the need to yell, “Sexy beast!” at me. Instead of flipping out and writing him up, I merely rolled my eyes, said “Whatever,” and kept walking. Later when he confessed that another student had put him up to it, I just pointed out that it was not acceptable behavior (this he knew, as he was confessing.) And that was the end of it.

I have received marriage proposals, date invitations (one student asked if I would go out with him if his mom wrote a letter giving her permission; another asked if transferring out of my class so he wasn’t my student made a difference.), and propositions. In each case, I thank the student for their compliment, point out proper boundaries if needed, and say no. Usually, I employ a bit of sarcasm. Example:

Miss Brailey, will you go out with me?”

Hmmm, do I feel like going to jail today? Sadly, no.”


“If you were ten years older, I might consider it, but alas, you’re not.”

My favorite from another teacher with a known crush on John Travolta (she had a cardboard cut-out of him in her room):

“Mrs. Peele, do you want to go out tonight?”

“Let’s see…(weighing options on imaginary scales with her hands) John Travolta…? Dylan…? Sorry. John Travolta.”

In any case, I don’t need to tell a kid he’s sick and wrong to establish boundaries. I just need to politely decline.

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