The thing with respect…I don’t think you can really demand respect from other people. It will create problems, at least tension, contempt, aggression.
First you have to give respect, then hope for it to come back to you, and if it doesn’t…well, I don’t have every kind of experience, but for me, this started when I worked as a teacher, like ten-fifteen years ago.
Not easy, but I loved to teach teenagers, partly because I hardly ever left this age myself in some ways, and I can pretty easily live with the fact that many of them say things you don’t always want to hear, that they have protest in them etc.
It’s pretty normal.
But of course, as a teacher, you have a subject to teach, and to do that you need some peace and calm in class, and to achieve this you have to have respect, preferrably in a good way, meaning both ways, between teacher and students.
To get there myself I had to yell quite a lot, but I was not really very angry, for several reasons. I could understand them pretty well, I liked playing as well and doing things my own way, and when you’re 17 that need is pretty strong.
As a teacher I didn’t care that much, privately, whether they chose to not care about schoolwork, I just wanted to give them English because I love English, and to give them self respect because I think everybody is entitled to it, to have the possibility to achieve personal integrity, and a teacher is in a position to help them on this road to independence and in the end, of course, hopefully give them the ability to respect others…if they were not there already.
I was curious about how they lived, what views and opinions they had on different political and generally human issues, they being part of the next generation and also future health workers (and joiners, those were the two groups of professions I taught). I love health people, they are mostly kind and competent and I also really enjoyed having them as colleagues, many of the teachers were of course educated as nurses.
I had a lot of discussions in class about health issues or just political issues, as far as we could manage we spoke English, although sometimes we had to go on in Norwegian, which I allowed for a certain time.
But when I yelled at them it was more for practical reasons than because of deep anger, and because I didn’t know of any other means then to get a class to behave and do what I told them.
You can say that this meant a little lack of personality or experience, that one should do that part in some other way…
Every teacher has to deal with the problem of order in class – in his or her own way.
Anyway, at a point the yelling stopped, I didn’t have to any more, I had gotten where I wanted to be, quiet when it needed to be quiet, actually respect both ways, they worked when they should and discipline was not an issue anymore, not more than I could handle with more modest means than yelling.
If something happened I felt I had been through the repertoire, so to speak, I knew what to say to them in a softer voice. We respected one another, and to get the work done was easier.
And on the way to this point, it was necessary to be both soft and strict.
But the whole thing was easier because I liked them, also as teenagers, I respected them from the start. But I had to keep that respect on the way, which was not always easy.
Then I left the profession, partly because I fixed that discipline thing, and partly for other reasons.
This has probably not much to do with the situation of blacks in the USA or elsewhere, it just illustrates that you often need to be fairly sure of yourself to really speak to others. And to keep that self respect even when people provoke you.
Not easy, but possible.
A real feeling of integrity and respect – in this particular situation.
Towards yourself and towards others.
It can be made in a process like this.
The history of blacks in the States, and a number of other places…
The start is wildly different from the whites.
I mean, serously, slavery.
To own another person, another human being.
It is in itself a crime.
It must make the relationship between people…rotten. Even if you’re a nice slave owner, in say 1815 or something…it is an outrage in itself.
To get your formal freedom from this situation must be huge, if you were a slave back them.
But it doesn’t take away the feeling of being in another man’s custody. Or what?
And the feelings of the slave…-owner…hm.
Takes ages to change these things even if society really goes for it. You inherit a lot of attitudes and habits from parents and grandparents, things go in generations.
And if society doesn’t do too much, or not enough, about the…abyss, maybe, even, which exists or existed between people who have owned other people…well, it will take even more time to be able to act fairly reasonable.
Some attitudes maybe even don’t change, until someone demands that they must change.
If you live in the States you know the country from the inside, from living there. I write this only as a newspaper reader and with some general knowledge of society and humans. And from talking to people.
Of course I talked to my students a lot on the way, but my regime was, many things are your own responsibility.
With teenagers this age (16-17, mainly) I guess this is generally possible. You can deal with them partly as kids, or mostly as grownups. You end up somewhere inbetween those two, I guess.
Of course, pedagogically, it is not as simple as this, because, when you talk to your students or with them, you have to know more or less who they are, where they are heading as far as you can see it, when it comes to what they learn, too, of course, but also you need to see them as persons, to know them a little as you know any person, to see them not only as students.
They have to know what your demands as a teacher are and what not, and all in all, you have to see to it that your philosophy of teaching actually works, and also it develops along the way because you’re not finished with finding your own attitudes or ways of working when you start teaching.
That may never stop completely.
In the end, they should learn as much English (this was my subject) as they are capable of, and your relationship with them should give the students a sense of independence, and dignity on their part too – on this distance of human relationships this goes without saying for me, I mean, really private relations, living togther, that is for me really difficult.
In a job, even as personal as this, you still keep a certain distance, which makes things easier than can sometimes be the case in private relations.
Even if some students do their best to annoy you and manages to do that in some situations, at other times they are not like that.
Some are really difficult to handle for you, but maybe not as difficult for some of your colleagues. The relationship differs, a normal thing anywhere, and even if you don’t let it come out as discriminating behaviour, you can’t help liking people.
But as a teacher I think it takes very little to like people, it is often enough with a small wink or a smile or a comment, and you’re back in the saddle as basically happy to be working with – people.
If this sounds like idyllisation, I can of course say that I was a teacher only like 4-5 years, I don’t know what it takes to stay a whole or a half lifetime. I have been teaching piano too, after this, but not for years on end.
When you reach summer, everyone ought to be finished with problems and the students get their grades and you have sodas & chocolate with them and a nice talk which may sum up the year in some ways, and everyone, including teachers, are happy that summer vacation is finally there, and you can let go, you gave them what you managed to give them and they received what they could manage to take and you have a stretch of one year if that is how long the courses you teach last, and you go home to your garden if you’re happy enough to have one, or you go to your favourite bar or coffeeshop or maybe park or just home and you sit there for a couple of weeks waiting for your body to feel like it contains your soul and that both actually are able to do anything at all.
You did what you could, and in August, you’ll have the energy to start on another ball.
This is a bit of what it is to teach, if you ever wanted to know, and only some bits of the human side of it. The subject you teach is yet another thing.
And sometimes you meet some of the people you taught later, and this is another happiness which is not measurable in any way other than the feeling of even a lot more than you know, because you never quite know the lives of other people, but the sight of them being kind of happy and kind of competent if you bumped into someone at their work or on the street and they recognized you and greeted you and said yo or hi or whatever…
I won’t brag more.
I miss teaching, but maybe not the curriculum. Even if the subject is your favourite one, it is basically what makes you run the whole year and makes you crash into summer vacation at the end of the year like a worn-out car, because there is never too much time, rarely enough and most of the time it feels like too little, at least between the lessons. The pressure lasts until the vacation starts.
So this was my way of teaching, a little of it, and the feeling of creating a respectful relationship both ways by giving respect first, being as strict as you have to and not more, and in the end hoping for them to respect you, asking for respect, too, sometimes, but not demanding it by any means of violence, physical or mental.
Good practice for your…backbone, is that proper English? to say the least, for your ability to be soft and not soft at the same time.