There's a new buzzword in our house. After "seriously cool" "heavy" and "attitude" my 10-year-old daughter has just discovered "respect". Sadly this does not mean she's any more tolerant of me. The respect that Sarah speaks of is culled from fanzines in which young pin-ups expostulate on why this concept is of key importance in their relationships. She also has a Spice Girls CD which is signed with "love and respect" from Shouty, Sulky and Tart.
Now Sarah has been sharing with us the disturbing rumour that "not all teachers at the comprehensive respect their pupils". I must admit that I was rather thrown by this - and not just because I'm old enough to remember pop stars prizing "sincerity" above everything else. Surely in my day this whole business of "respect" functioned the other way around?
At our school we had a tradition that whenever the headmaster came into a classroom everyone shot up out of their chairs, just as if 30 bottoms had suddenly come into contact with as many drawing pins. The head would then loftily stand us at ease. "Sit down gentlemen." It was a bit of a circus but it schooled us to show respect and later, as we got to know the man, many of us actually did.
There were of course teachers we didn't respect, like Ducky - who got into a flap when faced with a class of 30 boys - and Dead Ted who used to fall asleep during French dictation, but mostly we afforded our teachers a credit balance of respect until they went into the red - when we could, of course, be cruel. The significant thing, however, was it never occurred to my schoolmates that the teachers were supposed to respect us. All I asked of life was not to be lifted out of my seat by those very painful hairs just over the ear lobe.
Listening to Sarah fretting about the big school, it does seem as if respect has become another of those things that everyone expects to be given but no one wants to earn. Another of our rights in fact. Schoolkids want it but I doubt we're talking a two-way trade here. Pity then the teachers at our comprehensive. Do they stand up every time a pupil comes in the room? Keeping up with the national curriculum is hard enough but to do so while simultaneously convincing 30 pupils how much you respect them - that's seriously heavy.
Opinion 17 TESJjune 5 1998