Respect for Teachers

Respect is an interesting notion. There is showing respect and there is having respect. Now, given that I’m a substance rather than style (function rather than form) type of girl, I care about people having respect. I’m not that fussed about people showing respect.

I think my students respect me. I think my students in the UK respected me. I think my students here respect me. They call me Kath because I really want them too (I’d be quite happy with them calling me Bucket but I think that really is asking too much). I feel uncomfortable with Miss or Madame or any other female equivalent of Sir. I’m just Kath. I feel very uncomfortable when the students here stand when we walk into the room or when we leave it. We ask them to sit down and on the whole they are getting better at complying. 🙂

I am really, really, very, very uncomfortable when they worship us (which fortunately hasn’t happened for ages – I’m hoping it won’t again). For those of you who don’t know the worshipping thing is when the student kneels down on the floor at your feet and bows their head almost to the floor. They put their hands on the floor then bring them up palms together, they do this a couple of times. The teacher then touches the top of their head and they stand up. It’s not just students who do this, people generally do this to someone older than them that they respect. So children/teenagers will do it to aunts and uncles (of either the related or the unrelated varieties). I think I find it really uncomfortable because from my cultural background those actions show a massive amount of obsequiousness and self-deprecation. But I think that it’s not as big a deal here. So I think I am bringing a lot of connotations to this that it doesn’t have here. Well, I hope I am. But nonetheless, it makes me uncomfortable. It makes me uncomfortable when people do it to me, it also makes me uncomfortable when people do it to other people.

But the point isn’t so much about what I feel of the cultural practice of worshipping teachers. The point is about the gulf between having respect and showing respect. And which is more important.

Alex and I have quite relaxed relationships with our students. We can chat to them about what is happening in their lives. There have been things that they couldn’t possibly talk to any of their teachers about that they have spoken to us about. The way we carry ourselves with them and the way they carry themselves with us is very different from their behaviour with their other teachers. And this isn’t just because we are foriegners. I had similar relationships with my students in England (as did some of my colleagues), but many of the other teachers had the far more distant and formal relationship that is common here.

I don’t think this level of informality or relaxation shows a lack of respect on behalf of the students. There are some teachers whose students call them Sir and stand when they walk in the room etc. But having heard what some of these students say about those teachers outside of class I don’t think these actions can be seen as a sign of respect!

And whether students have or show respect for their teachers makes little difference to whether they learn anything from their teachers. I have heard stories of students who had horrible teachers that they hated and didn’t respect but whom they learnt a lot from. I have also heard of students having respect for teachers from whom they learnt very little.

Ideally, I’d like my students to respect me. I’d like them to think I am a good teacher. I’d like them to learn something from me. I’d like them to enjoy my classes. I’d like them to think of me as a friend and a role model. Some of my students I’m sure will do some of these things. I think my aim for my continuing development as a teacher is to get as many students as possible doing as many of these things as possible. But most importantly it is to get them all learning something from me!

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