Respect Is Key To Teaching


From the time of Socrates, teaching has been one of the most noble and enriching professions, enabling one's students to pass through life bearing the mark of their intelligence while building the foundations of self-esteem.

The primary purpose of education is the search for and dissemination of truth. The methodology used to discover truth is based on critical literacy. The role of the educator, therefore, is to facilitate critical literacy within one's students through rigorous exercise and discipline, leading to cultivation of the intellect and maturity.

"The liberally educated person is one who is able to resist the easy and preferred answers," observed Allan Bloom, "not because he is obstinate but because he knows others worthy of consideration."

Education is concerned with the discernment of truth, not the voicing of momentary whim constituting subjective opinion.

By the Socratic method of divergent classroom discussion and investigation, instruction must capitalize on both the cognitive (thinking) and affective (emotional) aspects of students in order to prepare them to become fully integrated members of society.

As a history instructor I face this challenge on a daily basis. My high school students must make an emotional connection with the factual material being studied. And they do not get that from reading boring accounts of historical events from state-mandated texts, sapped of the richness of narrative and vision. Students stumbling and fumbling, like cheerless robots, to hurriedly answer the tedious section review questions of a text's chapter before the bell sounds at the end of a period is not learning. It is a rote process of going through mechanical motions like a trained seal.

The behavioral conduct of an educator is to nurture maturity within one's students by maximizing self-discipline and the internalization of responsibility. Students must be made to face the fact that actions have consequences. Education cannot be held hostage to disruption or extortion by nihilistic gangsters or unremorseful barbarians – purposeless and lacking any semblance of civility or conscience.

In a stimulating, vigorous classroom environment, with rules and procedures clearly defined and equitably enforced, and with the full consideration of the rights of each student, the search for truth can proceed, if there is a mutuality of respect by those present.

Respect is critical to the success of this endeavor. An extremely wise and sagacious teacher, Jim Goss, carefully pointed out to me that "respect is a verb." It is not a passive noun but something that must be actively fostered and eventually earned. Respect – for oneself, one's mind, body, parents or teachers – is a prime ingredient of self-esteem.

Accordingly, respect for individuality and inclusive diversity within the classroom is the recognition that only under a climate of freedom can development of internal standards of conduct be possible.

An effective educator must possess the realistic expectations and temperament to meet the challenge of providing the vital motivational structure for learning during a student's developing years.

"It is the supreme art of the teacher to awaken joy in creative expression and knowledge," noted Albert Einstein.

As someone who has had this profound pleasure of appreciating teaching from both sides of the lecture podium, I offer these reflections, however disinterested, as prudential wisdom tempered by experience.

January 10, 2007