HORIZONS:Students, as well as teachers, deserve reasonable respect

I still go back to my old high school occasionally when I’m home-sort of like Daniel hanging out in the lions’ den, I guess.

It’s odd to see the old routines going on, the dramas being played out in the hallways, and the bustle at the cafeteria tables as an outside observer-wondering if my friends and I were like that and knowing we were.

While I’m back, I often stop to talk to several of the teachers. I still have a rapport with many of them-a rapport I feel is strengthened slightly by the fact that I’m no longer a student.

One is currently reading the latest draft of my screenplay and providing input, another is planning to read for a small role not yet cast, and I’m planning on shooting a small flashback sequence in the commons come late April (provided I gain permission from the principal-if you’re reading this, Mr. Weltha, consider this the first, “Please?”)

While talking with them, I’m continually reminded of this new dynamic-of the mutual respect given and taken. It’s a little like those moments where you find your parents’ old yearbooks or see family pictures on your boss’s desk-where the authority figure becomes a person. It wasn’t a concept I’d been unfamiliar with, but it’s one that has become even clearer to me of late-and it works on the same principle as with parents, employers or anyone else in the world.

Give respect, and most likely you will receive it.

Of course, this statement is double-sided. Teachers must also give respect to the students to get it in return. Most do, of course, but there are several in every school who don’t -the same way there are students in every school who go there for the purpose of inciting controversy.

A friend of mine who’s still in high school had an experience last week with a teacher. I’m not naming schools, teachers, or names, because the experience could have taken place anywhere.

The experience was this: due to a simple, non-rule-breaking misunderstanding, the teacher yelled at this student enough to cause tears. This student has an exemplary record, consistently makes the honor roll, displays respect to teachers, and takes part in many extracurricular activities. When asked by a third party to apologize to the student, the teacher refused, claiming he/she had been in the right and did not feel guilt.

This teacher is well-respected and long-employed, but there is no excuse for a reaction like that.

I believe students deserve respect-not necessarily the same caliber of respect afforded to the teachers, but the respect afforded to any human being: the ability to live without being insulted, humiliated or hurt. When someone in a position of power abuses that position and does not bestow mutual respect, the consequences can be disastrous.

In high school, my friends and I were outsiders. We didn’t fit easily into any defined clique and subsequently created our own. We made mistakes of respect as well-chalk it up to youthful arrogance, misguided self-importance and the search for individuality.

Teachers, however, are old enough to know better. They are paid to know better. And they are also paid to be a guiding influence on students, to help them, understand them and give them knowledge.

The vast majority of teachers I have known do this, and therefore foster relationships with the students-relationships founded on mutual respect. These teachers make a difference. These teachers are the ones students respond to. These teachers are remembered for life. These teachers are name-checked from award podiums. These teachers make a difference.

My mother is a teacher, and she has one of those needlepoint sampler things that say: “A teacher affects eternity. She can never tell where her influence will stop.”

My mother-along with many other teachers around the world-adheres to sayings like these and finds value and purpose in their profession.

The potential to touch lives, the potential to affect eternity-we all have that, every day. Teachers, by virtue of their careers, do it for a living. And they, like the rest of us, have the power to choose what sort of impact they make.

Affecting eternity is a privilege. Teachers, students and none of the rest of us should abuse it.

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