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Respect is a two-way process

The School Curriculum and Assessment Authority paper on values states that children should respect others. But, how many teachers today realise that, if children are to learn to respect others, they need to receive respect in return? It is a two-way process. Good educational practice allows children to voice their opinions and display whatever talents they have, and, in turn, receive praise for these, while they are guided smoothly through the learning process in all other subjects. In receiving respect for their ideas and skills, it raises their self-esteem. This is merely treating them - as we would wish them to treat us - with respect.

I learnt this lesson from the most disruptive pupil I ever taught. His only interest was gardening. After much discussion and reasoning with him, and some re-arrangement of the timetable, he began to work in class in exchange for short, class gardening sessions in the school grounds. This gave him a chance to lead the class in a gardening activity, the one thing at which he was an expert.

Things then began to go well for him and us. He worked in class, we learnt a lot about gardening. During these outdoor working periods, he shared his knowledge and skills with his peers, and they looked at him with new eyes, thereby building up his self-respect.

After a short time, when his problems appeared to be over, he suddenly rebelled. Apparently another teacher had given him lines to write as a punishment during his break, which he refused to do. The root of the problem was that the other teacher had neither listened to his side of the story, nor said "please". Yes, he would have done it for anyone who treated him with respect.

This unkempt, dirty, disruptive boy actually used the word respect in his angry outpouring about the punishment he felt to be unfair. When asked, it was clearly apparent that he knew the meaning of the word respect. Whatever the reasons for his behavioural problems, or the circumstances at home that caused him to arrive at school each day in a somewhat undesirable state, he had been taught the basic moral values. He was expected to be polite and to respect others, and obviously he expected the same in return.

There are some excellent teachers in our schools but many, either out of stress or determination, can be heard "demanding" that children do things. At times their loud or aggressive attitudes are tantamount to bullying and this builds up resentment in the children. Keeping discipline is one of the hardest tasks that confronts a teacher, but it is a skill that is developed from within. Shouting, bullying or demanding plays little part, if any, in the process of keeping order in a class or playground. Patience, and respect for the child as an individual, brings far quicker and more lasting results.

The incident related took place 25 years ago, but I honestly feel that this was one of the most valuable lessons I learned as a teacher in 30 years. It has given me a sound basis throughout my career for maintaining discipline and harmony in my classroom.

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