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Authored By: 
Kate Bendrick, Math Teacher

I’ve been thinking a lot about respect lately. In a survey of long-lasting life partners, it came up as crucial to maintaining a relationship. Communication was important too, but respect was moreso: 

“My husband and I have been together 15 years this winter. I’ve thought a lot about what seems to be keeping us together, while marriages around us crumble (seriously, it’s everywhere… we seem to be at that age). The one word that I keep coming back to is “respect”. Of course, this means showing respect, but that is too superficial. Just showing it isn’t enough. You have to feel it deep within you. I deeply and genuinely respect him for his work ethic, his patience, his creativity, his intelligence, and his core values. From this respect comes everything else – trust, patience, perseverance (because sometimes life is really hard and you both just have to persevere). I want to hear what he has to say (even if I don’t agree with him) because I respect his opinion. I want to enable him to have some free time within our insanely busy lives because I respect his choices of how he spends his time and who he spends time with. And, really, what this mutual respect means is that we feel safe sharing our deepest, most intimate selves with each other.”

The idea that communication is important in relationships is pretty common to hear these days, but I can’t ever remember reading, hearing, or talking about the importance of respect. So I started trying to pin down what respect is.

Respect can mean a behavior alone; for instance, “Respect the traffic signals!” essentially means follow the rules. But, more often than not, it’s a standpoint, an underlying attitude towards someone from which respectful behavior springs...or doesn’t. Morale can be said to be similar. In researching teacher morale, writer and English teacher Dina Strasser was surprised to hear a superintendent say that morale is not a goal in and of itself, but peripheral, a symptom of other underlying practices: "Teacher morale, in my experience, is not a function of practices designed to maintain or create it. It's a by-product of being treated as leaders and being treated with respect. Teacher morale is the end product of empowering teachers to make decisions that affect their lives."

Again, respect appears as the underlying attitude, with morale simply the happy byproduct. More importantly, the respect attitude is crucial. According to philosopher Immanuel Kant, respect is owed to everyone, for the mere fact that they are a person. One colleague of mine commented that students these days are much more aware of their emotional experiences than her peers had ever been. From my own parents’ stories, I can only conclude that the same is true from their generation to mine. I think this is because, as a society, we are increasingly recognizing children as persons, as worthy of respect. The same can be said to be occurring in the classroom, with the demise of corporal punishment and the rising recognition of the student as an individual. Let the old adage “respect your elders” be joined by a new one:

“Respect your children.”