Warning: If you are a new teacher, please do not sabotage your career by making the biggest mistake most teachers make when they first start teaching. What mistake is that, you ask? It's being a hypocrite. Ouch! I know that's harsh, but allow me to explain.
One of the most common questions I get asked during my teacher training workshops is, "What can we do to get our students to be more respectful?" Many educators complain that students talk back, misbehave, and act out with little regard for teacher or classmates.
My first response to that question is, "What have you done to earn their respect?"
The truth is, times have changed. Long gone are the days when a teacher's presence alone demanded respect -- from students as well as their parents. Today, in a society where good morals are on the decline and self-centeredness is on the incline, we can't afford to educate students the way our teachers did back in the day. We have to get respect the hard way -- we have to earn it.
One of the best ways to earn a student's respect in the classroom is by being the kind of person your students want to become. Put another way, if your students don't want to become you (i.e. duplicate your success), then you don't need to be there.
We're talking about integrity.
Whenever we promote success to students without first modeling it, we're seen as hypocrites in their eyes, even if they don't admit it. In addition, we lose credibility in the classroom.
I personally believe that, as teachers, others should want what we have. I'm not talking about material possessions, position, power, or perceived status; I'm talking about good character. Character is something money can't buy, but everyone admires and respects -- even if they don't like you personally.
That is one of the most basic principles of successful teaching; however, it's one of the most difficult lessons for new teachers to learn. The truth of the matter is, whenever we step into a classroom or in front of a group of students (especially middle and high school students), they're already sizing us up to see how they will treat and respond to us. If you don't believe me, then you've never been a substitute teacher -- or had one.
The #1 question a student has in his or her mind when first meeting you is Who are you? Trust me, you need to generate a response that's much greater than the sound of your name. Unless your last name is Winfrey, Gates, or Woods, you're going to have to earn the respect of your students.
Who you are to them must speak louder than the actual words you use. In other words, the presence of your character should speak before you even utter your first word. How you walk, look, stand, dress, act, speak, respond, and even smell when you enter your school always should produce the response, "I want that." Or, at the very least, it should say, "She's different."
Now understand, that doesn't necessarily mean you will be respected, but at least you will gain your students' attention long enough for them to listen to what you have to say about respect. If students get the impression you don't respect yourself, they'll conclude that they don't have to respect you, either.
The next couple of questions students ask themselves to determine whether or not they will respect you is, "Why is what you're teaching me important?" and "Do you mean what you say?"
I think you can draw your own conclusions about why your answers to those questions are critical to building your credibility in the classroom. I will tell you that you must immediately address all three of those questions, and you must do it clearly, confidently, and concisely. Your respect and your reputation in the classroom depend on it. So teach with passion, and remember to practice what you teach.