It is a bit of a chicken and egg scenario, or is it that simple? Should teachers automatically be respected once they walk in a classroom, or is the respect that students develop for teachers something that is developed over time?

It would be interesting to see how teachers poll on this question. Certainly, I have heard over many years, and still hear, complaints from teachers that they are not respected enough.

First, let’s put one thing straight, I am not saying that this is wrong to expect to receive respect. What a wonderful situation it would be where a teacher is able to walk into a classroom and the students are there ready and wanting to learn regardless of who has walked into the room.

Truth is, however, that this does not happen, much to the frustration of many teachers who are challenged by disrespectful behaviour from students’ day in and day out. What may be regarded as disrespectful behaviour by students is very much subjective and attitudes have also changed over time. That said, we do have to respond to disrespectful behaviour in schools and do our utmost to cultivate positive learning environments.

When faced with disrespectful behaviour from students in our schools, we need to begin by trying to understand why this behaviour is occurring in the first place. This is no easy feat though because understanding behaviour is complicated. It is easy to jump to a conclusion about a student’s background, family and societal attitudes to education just not being conducive to supporting learning. We have a duty to unpack this much more and this, perhaps, starts with the examining the role and behaviour of teachers in schools.

Unfortunately, like it or not, teachers, schools and education get a bad rap quite often. Poor teachers, those that have acted irresponsibly and / or inappropriately towards students, and poor educational leaders who have not supported the quality of teaching and learning in our schools, have done, at different points in time, a significant amount of damage that is not easy for the profession to recover from. So, first and foremost, engendering respectful behaviour in schools starts with us, educators, in the way we forge relationships with students but, nearly as important, how teachers and school leaders respectfully interact with one another.

Once we teachers have our behaviour in-check, which includes not taking shortcuts with our teaching practice, then we can move onto how a school collaboratively engenders a culture of mutual respect between students and teachers. Working together, rather than individually, allows for agreed norms that shape the culture of the school community.

Many schools start with a set of rules for students to abide by. Often these rules are broken and implementing them consistently is a significant challenge for teachers because it comes down to behaviour enforcement that often involves confrontation when the expected behaviour is not adhered. Rarely, is there consistent agreement upon the rules that are to be enforced and, subsequently, the teaching body in a school is inconsistent in their application of those rules. Frustrations arise through this inconsistency and eventually it leads to cynicism, as it is argued that the Administration are not doing enough to support teachers in ensuring that students abide by the rules. The effectiveness of a set of rules can be furthered hampered by how long the list of rules is. The longer the list, the more challenging it is to enforce the behaviour.

A better approach would be to start with a set of school values and from there, begin to develop norms. When we start with what we value, then it becomes easier to understand what is expected of us in terms of our behaviour. Again, the list of values should not be extensive, as the list then becomes too long to be remembered by school leaders, teachers and students. Three to five values from which the behaviour of all members in the community can be referred to makes for meaningful discussion between all members of the community when things do not go the way we may expect them to go. Values allow us to develop mutual understanding and agreement, often allowing for shades of grey in behaviour rather than things being black or white.

Unfortunately, there are many factors that are beyond our control when it comes to establishing respectful student behaviour in our schools. Teachers may not be able to influence what goes on in a student’s home, so we must do what we can while the student is at school. The role of the media, I think, has a huge amount to answer for in proving television viewing that glamourizes poor behaviour to the point that we become immune to how inappropriate it may be. News coverage about education that tends to be negative, we can in fact do a lot more to control through ensuring that we maintain high standards in our profession.

This is where it is complicated, whenever standards drop in our professional behaviour, then we do damage to other people in our profession at the same time, making life extremely difficult. When it comes to expecting, or gaining respect from our students, then we must get our house in order to begin with. As is often said, be the change you want to see in your students.