R-E-S-P-E-C-T. Find out what it means to seventh graders.

Answer: it doesn’t.

I am big on respect. You give it, you get it, it’s as simple as that. Well, almost that simple. You have to earn it, more than others, depending on who you are. As a student, you need to give respect to a teacher. As a teacher, I will respect my students, but they also have to earn that respect as well. I am not going to give my students privileges if they do not earn those privileges. As a teacher, I will do my best to earn my students’ respect, but I also think respect comes with the job. At the beginning of the year, I even termed my rules “Respect Contract,” where students sign their name to a pledge that they will respect me and one another by following the rules.

My students, however, do not have this concept down. They do not respect each other, and some of them do not respect me. Oh, there are some who I have no problems with. They listen, they do what they are told, and I do not hesitate to let them have certain privileges. There are some who just blatantly disrespect me and other students, which I am working on. And there are some who swear they respect me, and consequently others, but their actions say otherwise.

As a middle school teacher, I am struggling with this concept of respect. How do I teach emotional, hormone-charged students, who often live in their own little world, to be respectful of one another? That if someone is annoying you, you do not scream “SHUT UPPPPPP!” at them, or if someone pushes your books off your desk, you do not push their books off their desks, or if someone calls you a name, you do not proceed to call them a WORSE one? I spent almost an entire period today explaining this to a class, in which they proceeded to argue with me about how I don’t understand how annoying it is. I replied that what is annoying is stopping my class every five minutes to tell them to not yell at one another, that responding in the way they do is even more distracting than the original perpetrator. To which, they reply, “But Mrs. Higgins, you don’t get it!”

They’re right: maybe I don’t get it. I don’t get how you can be so wrapped up in your own little world that you don’t understand that you CHOOSE to respond to others, that no one MAKES you push their books off or talk back or yell back or be generally rude. I don’t get how I can take ten minutes of my precious class time to explain to the class how we treat one another and what is not acceptable, and then ten minutes later a student goes and does the EXACT thing I tell them not to. I don’t understand how students can think it is perfectly fine to be chatting while I am teaching, but then as soon as another student does it, it is tattle-tale worthy.

This post makes me sound like I am not understanding or compassionate to my students. I am, I really am. I listen to their complaints and their gripes; I try to be sympathetic to their needs (and sometimes even wants). But I also know that there are days when these studens will have to deal with someone they don’t necessarily get along with, whether at school, in sports, or in the workplace one day. They will also realize that they cannot yell at one another, they cannot put up hissy fits, and they cannot whine and complain until they get their way. I am trying to teach them about respect, because I know that in the end it will benefit them greatly. It is a lesson that needs to be taught.

But, my God, is it a hard lesson to teach.

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