What is respect?

*Note: This is simply a collection of questions and observations, not meaning to preference one perspective over another. I am curious about the differences in cultural understandings of what it means to be respectful and to respect time. As always, comments open, discussion encouraged. 

In Ramla, Israel, many of my students jump up to greet me and my co-teacher when we enter the room and sit down only when told they may. Because it is different from my prior experiences, it often unsettles me; at first I did not know how to respond. I believe it is meant to show respect, and I need help understanding why. What is “respect” in this context?

When your students are loud during class, does it bother you, and why? For me, there is a big distinction between talking with each other and talking over each other. The prior I find actually shows a higher level of respect than simply sitting and staring silently at the speaker, when it is hard to tell whether the students are engaged or caring about the speaker’s words at all. A teacher trainer pointed out that here, if there is complete silence in a primary school classroom, something is wrong. Either the children are afraid of you or something else is going on.

After the first few minutes in an Israeli classroom, there is often a lot of shouting. When I tell people I work in Ramla, they often widen their eyes and say “wow, tough!” or simply that Israeli kids in general are very difficult. Why? Because they are loud, we are told, because they don’t sit still, because they don’t show respect. I am thinking a lot about what respect means to different people/cultures. I adore my students and do not find them disrespectful, except for the rare occasions they laugh at each other or talk over each other, in which case I step in and ask them what respect means to them, or specifically reiterate the “one person speaks at a time” rule. The language barrier makes the nuance in this conversation difficult, but I’m not giving up!

Usually when I start the school year or a new program, I sit down with my students and we co-construct a document writing out what respect looks like in our learning community. When students own that contract, I find they hold each other accountable to it. What sorts of community Codes of Conduct do your students construct with you?

Some questions to discuss with children:

  • What does respect look like to you?
  • What does respect sound like to you?
  • If I think I am being respectful of you but my actions make you feel disrespected, is it possible that I am being respectful?
  • Is it possible to have respect for someone without showing them respect?
  • Is it possible to show someone respect without feeling respect for them?
  • Are there some people to whom or situations in which we must/should show respect whether we feel it or not? Why/why not?
  • Is respect earned or given freely until lost? Why? Can you give examples?

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