Wikipedia, that oracle of respectful truth asserts that: ‘Respect, also called esteem, is a positive feeling or action shown towards someone or something considered important, or held in high esteem or regard. It conveys a sense of admiration for good or valuable qualities.’
I used to think I give respect quite freely to those in authority, but give me reason to doubt that given respect one too many times and I find it very hard to establish that respect again. However, I think that what I thought was respect is rather deference. For me to truly respect someone, it takes time and also trust and faith to recognise that their qualities are authentically good and valuable.
I also question the joining of the word ‘admirable’ with respect. On one hand, I can count on two hands the amount of educators who have really influenced me during my career and I truly admire them. The majority have been strong, female role models: classroom teachers, middle leaders and head teachers. What has united them has been a relentless pursuit of setting high standards for the students they teach, or lead, whilst also demonstrating the ability to have grown a culture of trust and high standards amongst staff. They have known who they are, what they stand for and they have dedicated a lot of their life to this end, whilst also being able to have a family. It is possible.
Whilst I admire this group of people and aspire to be like them, it have found it easy to believe that this may never be possible. I need to be able to respect myself enough now, in order to know that anything is possible if I have a goal and a plan to reach it. This is a work in progress.
There is also sometimes the confusion between being liked and respected. Several of the people I mentioned above were well-respected but not always liked by those around them. Perhaps this is due to them having made some tricky decisions that may have made them appear aloof, ruthless, or both, or neither. Changing policy to match a future vision or ethos, as opposed to sticking with the status quo or what has gone before can be hard and undoubtedly feathers can be ruffled.
Regarding respect, it is also important to not confuse this with being liked. On occasions in the past, I have been aware of students liking me but I have had the conviction that they did not fully respect me. This is not because they questioned me, or blindly and passively did everything I said, it emanated more from the sense that they were happy having a chat in my presence and with me, but perhaps I should look for the positives to this: it is a sign that they trusted me and we had good student-teacher relationships.
Last year, several students in a year 11 class I taught were quite successful in their GCSEs. A couple weren’t, in spite of trying so hard. I will own those as well as the above predicted results. At times, it felt as if there was still much to learn and I’m sure teachers the world over can always feel that they haven’t done enough. However, those that thanked me sincerely for helping them to pass with a certain grade did respect me. That is one of the main reasons why I teach: giving others opportunities by helping them to believe in themselves and enjoy learning.
It is easier to respect some students than others, but it is perhaps those that have the harder journey that need the most respect when a battle against all odds is won. It is hard when home life turns upside down and some of our students live through turmoil; this is discounting Coronavirus. Mutual respect grows in the classroom from recognising everyone is human and it is a journey we traverse together. That is a privilege and deserves respect.