Jacob Hunt of Jodi Picoult’s House Rules asks his mother this very question after he is punished for a minor infraction involving a teacher at his school. Respect. He’s talking about respect. Why do teachers receive respect just because they are teachers when the average Joe has to prove to everyone he deserves respect just because he… isn’t a teacher? Well, Jacob, now that I’ve stepped into the teaching role in this scenario I’ve been asking the same question.
I am a volunteer assistant instructor for an English as a Second Language (ESL) course in my hometown (I don’t think I’ve ever mentioned this on here. Wish I had–I think I usually end up getting distracted by some other thought that pops into my head during the week. But anyway, digression.), so, essentially, I’m kind of a teacher–one of those positions that supposedly falls under the professions-that-deserve-automatic-respect category. I’d never really questioned why this is the case, even after I began working in the ESL field.
I’ve always adhered to the rule advising you to respect your elders. Anyone who held a few months or several decades–thus, more wisdom and experience–over my head was to be treated with kindness, civility. And if this elder holds a position of authority, showing respect is especially important. This always made sense to me–until last week in my ESL class.
Even though I’m one of the two teachers in the class, I’m not the oldest–far from it, actually. Thus, the idea to respect elders because they’re… elder is moot here. So then I should be respected because of my educator title, right? Turns out, that’s not much to go on either. Before I delve further, let me just say I love my class and I love my students and the following is in NO way intended to portray them negatively. However, they are not always the most civil with the teachers in the room… There usually comes a time each semester where a class session is dedicated to lecturing students to respect their elders, or in this case, teachers. Usually prompted because they continuously don’t show they’re listening to instruction, or because they interrupt, or talk while the teacher is talking, or a half dozen other reasons. I know the program that offers these ESL courses has looked into education styles in other countries in an attempt to understand our students’ behavior and respond accordingly, but I’m not sure much progress has been made yet. Regardless, normally after this “manners talk” takes place, the students seem to alter their classroom etiquette. But in my current class, there is one student who refuses to change their ways. They repeatedly defy what the head teacher (my boss) instructs the students do, they taunt both of us, and, ultimately, refuse to speak in English during the class. Maybe that last expectation seems presumptuous, but it is an English language class…
After the latest class meeting, I was very upset with how the student had behaved during the lesson, exhibiting behavior similar to that listed above. But in an attempt to examine things more objectively, I considered the central questions of this post–Jacob’s: Why do teachers automatically deserve respect? and mine: Do they in the first place? When I first stepped into my teaching position, I hadn’t done anything to warrant respect, yet until this most recent class meeting, I had seemed to think I deserved to be treated civilly. I’m not so sure, now.
Don’t get me wrong: I certainly don’t think we should be outright rude to people simply because we believe they haven’t done anything deserving of respect. But should we be bestowing the highest levels of admiration upon elders and authoritative figures without at least getting acquainted with their character first? I mean, consider how many people you’re nice to just because society says it must be so. Sure your teacher is your teacher but what if they’re also a serial killer? That kind of qualifies them as a terrible person, right? Jacob’s teacher wasn’t actually a serial killer, but he was a terrible person. Regardless, the school demanded he be treated with respect anyway because he was a teacher. Do teachers and/or authoritative figures turned serial killers still deserve respect just because they were your teacher and/or authoritative figure first? I apologize for the the completely unrealistic, overdramatic (and, if you’ve read House Rules, the sort of but not really ironic) example here, but it is something to think about…
Sorry I never figured out an answer to your question, Jacob. Have a civil (within reason) week!