My boy and I were talking about teachers this year. “The other kids say she’s mean and strict.” In kid-speak, that could mean anything from “she doesn’t let us do whatever we want,” to “the teacher can make their head spin around and they spit fire!” It could go either way.
He’s a little nervous. He’s never had issue with any teacher before.
“Bear, you’ll be fine. I’m guessing she has some pretty solid expectations of her class, so find out what those are. Use your best manners, don’t talk out of turn, don’t chat with your classmates, and do your work. Really concentrate on your writing, and if it takes a little longer to get things done, you can explain to her that you’re just a little slower til you get your writing smoother.”
“Ok” he says.
“If you concentrate on your best manners, work hard, and be respectful…”
PAUSE – as soon as “respectful” was uttered it seemed time stood still.
I attended many schools, in many states, and in two countries. Dad was big on being respectful in my behavior. Not necessarily to respect blindly, but to be accountable for my treatment of others. It’s a subtle difference, but when you get it, you get it.
Being respectful towards others is our business and in doing so we are, in turn, worthy of respect.
This is what was spinning in my head as the world went slow-mo.
I knew what disrespect felt like having been belittled by a teacher in front of a grade school class. I was already at a disadvantage being the new kid, again, and to have the teacher join in made me feel so very, very small. “This is so simple! How is it you don’t understand?” Ouch. Thanks so much.
Flash forward – high school. The girls in front of me are talking, and our very stern teacher snaps at me to “Stop talking and move to the other side of the classroom”
“I’m tired of you girls yammering away when you should be working. No wonder you struggle in this class!” Way to make it personal.
“Sir, I wasn’t talking…”
“Don’t talk back, GO!” he yells.
The girls who had been talking protest, and tell him they were the ones talking, but that doesn’t matter. He shouts “Just get out of here, I don’t even want to look at you!”
…and I am sent to the office, and told my parents are going to be told of my disrespectful behavior. Oh, and that I am to write an apology letter.
My father, a man who has earned a great deal of respect from his men and his peers, very calmly asks about it that night. He understands why I feel so angry and hurt. (I did write the apology letter…kind of. My father’s input was to write in a very clear and concise manner, a respectful note, but to address the way the teacher made me feel by punishing me for something I hadn’t done, and refusing to allow me to address it, and for commenting on my overall performance in anger.)
So, at that moment, in the car with Bear, I remembered these events in a big ol’ swirl – Not quite a Scooby Doo flashback – think instrumental timeline montage. For the first time, there were words for this.
How can we expect or demand respect, if we are not willing to be respectful.
There. Simple. Clean. Bear needs to know this.
“Yeah?” he says, and I see him in the rearview mirror – and those eyes…those beautiful, clear, sincere, intelligent, trusting eyes.
“Respect goes both ways, Buddy. If you ever feel that you are not being treated fairly, or respectfully, by any teacher or grown up you let me know, promise?”
His face relaxes a little, then his brow furrows, “What does that mean?”
Deep breath – “It means that if anyone makes you feel small, or like you are a bad person, or stupid, or somehow less…does that make sense? It’s NOT ok, just because it’s a grown up. It’s never ok from anyone.”
Silence, and I see it flash in his eyes. Some moment I’ve not known about, some time maybe when someone was cruel to him – and it breaks my heart – and I see that he understands.
“Yeah…” He says quietly. Then smiles, “I promise.”
He hugged me when I dropped him off, in front of the school and everything, and I had that thing that parents feel so rarely – Holy crap.. I think I got something right.
So, as I said on the FaceBook, it’s not enough to teach our children to be respectful. They must also be taught to recognize when they are being treated with respect, when they are not, and that they are worthy of it.
Oh, and that teacher to whom I had to write the letter? I received an apology letter of my own.