What does respect look like in a classroom environment and how do you get it? First, understand that respect is not fear. Fear and respect are two different things. You might fear somebody you have respect for or respect somebody you fear, but they are essentially two different things. Respect is like fear because its basic ingredient is a feeling. Your students must feel respect for you. For more on the topic of fear, please read the article Why Fear Tactics Never Work on Problematic Students.
Understand What You're Up Against
When it comes to basic respect, you must understand and accept that times have changed. It used to be that children were taught to respect their elders above all else. They were taught to shut their moth, listen, and then do what they were told. No questions asked. No arguing. No back talk. If you’ve been in any educational environment in the last five years you know that those days are gone. Don’t misunderstand me; there are still children who are taught to respect their elders and parents who expect that. But those are not the children that have motivated you to read this article.
Once you’ve identified respect as the end goal, you must then focus on the root problem and not on quick fixes. When teachers deal with respect in the classroom, they usually focus on external behaviors by the students. The focus is on how to show respect. Here’s a newsflash for you if you haven’t figured it out already, kids already know what is respectful and disrespectful. If they are being disrespectful to you in your classroom it’s because they don’t respect you. It’s NOT because they are confused and are accidentally disrespecting you.
So stop focusing on teaching them how to respect you and start focusing on earning their respect. It’s like fear, it’s either there or it’s not. If you wanted somebody to fear you, you wouldn’t teach them to act afraid. You would focus on scaring them so they are afraid. This is a fundamentally different approach. Once they respect you, many of the problematic behaviors will disappear naturally and be replaced with the behaviors you’d like to see.
Strategies to Earn Respect
Before you start looking at tactics and strategies for building respect, I must remind you that if you don’t genuinely care about and respect your students as individuals, no scheme to manipulate them into respecting you is going to work because they’ll see right through it. That being said, try implementing the following strategies to help build rapport and respect in your classroom.
1) Establish Yourself as the Authority of the Classroom
This is probably the biggest thing you can do to gain respect. Don’t immediately admit defeat and call in office reinforcements. You are the general, the dictator, the supreme and final authority in your room. If they know you are going to handle things yourself, they will respect you more. Calling for help indicates defeat. It shouldn’t, but it does. Just make sure you are growing in classroom management and leadership. It doesn’t happen by accident. Bright Hub is one of many resources out there. You live in the information age, just Google it!
2) Have a Plan (Syllabus, Agenda, etc.)
Students have spent many hours with dedicated teachers and with not so dedicated teachers. Always try to plan at least a minimum of one week out so you are never caught in a position of trying to “wing it". They know. If you don’t believe me, poll your classes and ask which teachers are prepared every day and which ones are winging it, they will probably give you spot on answers. In fact, they probably know better than anybody at your school because students aren’t the only ones who act differently when a visitor walks in. We are all guilty of it.
3) Look Professional
I hate it as much as the next person, but dressing professionally sets a tone in the classroom. That’s not to say you can’t be laid back and casual sometimes, but it shouldn’t be the norm until you have control and authority. Once classroom management is natural to you, there are things you can do away with, and being more casual in dress may be one of them. But if you’re struggling, err on the side of dressing too professional. I’ve experimented with this personally and I hate ties… but the difference in behavior I got while wearing them for a week-long experiment sealed the deal for me.
4) Be Consistent and Fair
Nothing will make you lose respect faster than not being fair. Don’t come down on the same student every time the entire class is talking. Spread the wealth around a little. It will give you more bang for your buck and as a whole, students will see you as being fair and not singling students out. Additionally, if you are having a bad day and are unfair with somebody, pull them aside the next day and acknowledge they got a raw deal. A sincere apology can go a long, long way.
5) Don’t Yell and Scream
This is the biggie. Once you begin yelling and screaming as a management strategy you lose respect. Not only that, but you set the precedent that you are not really upset until you are yelling and screaming. So you will need to do it more and more often to a greater degree to get the same effect. Besides, one of the great joys of being a student is watching a teacher go off the deep end and go a little ballistic. If you do it once, you will set yourself up as a target. Students will learn your hot buttons and push them often.
6) Set up Procedures and Revisit Them Often
This could be a subcategory of number 2 (have a plan), but it certainly qualifies as its own section. There should be a systematic way of doing anything that is repeated in your classroom. Whether it is sharpening a pencil, moving into groups, working with partners, getting make up work, and the list goes on. The key is that students should know these procedures. The must be simple to be memorable. If they aren’t working, change them until you find something that does or modify what you have until it works. Good systems work if implemented correctly in any organization and your classroom is a micro-organization.
All these things help with the basic management of the classroom by helping to build respect. Once your students respect you their engagement will go up and their misbehavior will go down. You don’t have to teach them to act respectfully as much as you need to earn their respect, then they will naturally behave in a respectful manner.