R-E-S-P-E-C-T

There are seven weeks left in the final semester of my classroom career. It’s been a difficult year. Teaching ACE has always been a challenge, and there have been countless rewards. One of them has been the often hard-earned respect of my students.

For well over twenty years of teaching this class, I left the classroom door unlocked so students could find a space in the school that felt like home. They could come use a computer for another class or just get a little peace and quiet. In all of those years, I have never had a single incident of vandalism or theft. This year, I have had to lock my door during lunch because of things being stolen from my office and issues with computers.

It is not uncommon at the beginning of the year to have to teach my students the basics of showing respect. Getting them to understand that promptness is a sign of respect. That owning it when you make a mistake is a strength and a step toward relationship building. One of the incredible rewards come spring has been looking out at kids who get to class on time and take responsibility in ways they didn’t before. There have always been kids who didn’t reach that point, but they were the exception, not the rule.

This year…

Don’t get me wrong. I do have some very respectful kids trying hard to get their lives on track. I often wonder if they get tired of walking into a classroom every day where respect is so undervalued by so many of their classmates.

I don’t know what’s changed. Is it me? Am I just tired and more sensitive than I used to be? Is it the world of adults that kids are modeling? A president who accepts no responsibility for anything? They come from rough backgrounds, and I get that, but I’ve had lots of students from rough backgrounds, and somehow we managed to eke out solid relationships built on mutual respect. Many of my students this year consider themselves disrespected whenever they are corrected. A significant number of them lie and talk back without compunction. Despite a year of trying to build them up, they still don’t understand that expectations are, in themselves, a sign of my respect–respect for their intelligence and potential. I used to be able to convince most kids that this was the case.

The hearts of kids have not changed. One-on-one, I get along well with almost all of my kids. I hear them speak so genuinely of their desire to achieve, to make something of themselves, to be respected by their peers and teachers. Some have figured it out, and they are on their way. Most this year are saying all the right words alone in the ACE office with me or the ACE paraeducator, then going out into the room and intentionally messing up the cooperative games we play or refusing to do any sort of work that is challenging, perfectly happy to take the F, even in an environment where, if you try, you cannot fail.

I’m feeling sad in this last year of my career, and because it is the last, I am sadder still. I am proud of the students who are succeeding. I just wish I had managed to figure how to get more of them to that place.

Addendum (March 22)

I don’t give up. It’s just not in me. Today, my students and I worked together to really dive into the idea of respect, into the specifics of moral values (which are fixed) and rules (which are too often twisted). They seemed engaged. One kid said it was the best lesson all year. Did it make a difference? Tomorrow will tell…

Addendum (March 23): Nada. Sigh.

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Paula is an author of historical fiction as well as a wife, mom, and teacher.
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