15 JANUARY 2002

During this international week on CYC-NET, we listen in on an educational viewpoint from Japan

Getting down to Basics: Gaining respect from children in the classroom

We all know from our school days that some teachers are respected and others are not, and most of us learned far more in the lessons where we respected the teacher. So, now it is our turn. We need to gain the respect of the children in our classes and consider what qualities we should try to develop in order to achieve this.

We sometimes hear people say they respected strict and dominant teachers at school. This is worth taking a closer look at. Was it really their strictness that was respected or what they seemed to achieve with that strictness, such as an image of confidence and competence, and an ability to keep us well behaved and focused on learning? Those teachers may have used strictness and punishment to achieve these ends, but are these the only ways of doing this?

These methods are often out of place in a child-centered classroom, so we should be looking for other ways of gaining respect that are more compatible with a child-centered approach and are more in tune with the changing attitudes of children and society in general.

“We need to walk into a class feeling we know what we are doing ... ”

We need to walk into a class feeling we know what we are doing, and if we do not have this feeling of competence we need to reflect on why, and maybe get more training. It is natural for new teachers to lack a feeling of competence, so a certain amount of bluff may be necessary! If the children notice we are not feeling competent, they may lose respect and behave badly.

It is best to prepare more activities than we expect to need during a lesson. Pausing to wonder what to do next, unless this is a planned pause to get the children more involved in choosing activities, can make them restless and lose some respect for us. We should try to keep one step ahead, switching activities before the children's emotional involvement in the lesson weakens, and give them the feeling that we know where we are going.

The beginning of a lesson is very important. Until we know a class well, we should start either with a safe classroom ritual that involves all the children (particularly with a large class) or with an attractive and nonthreatening activity that settles them down and gets everyone focused on the lesson. This will help all the children in the class feel comfortable and secure with us.

“Recognizing our own preferences and biases is the first step to being fair to our students.”

Recognizing our own preferences and biases is the first step to being fair to our students. We need to look closely at our feelings toward individual children. Children have a keen sense of fairness, and generally lose respect for us if we have "favorites" or if we dislike individual children. We need to appear to like each child equally, and even just appearing to do so is often not enough--many children can sense how we really feel. We may need to look inside ourselves quite deeply if we really want to be fair to each child.

Children who lose confidence often lose respect for us and start behaving badly or become quiet. Confidence is relative. It depends very much on who the other children in the class are and how successful they appear to be. A child may feel very confident in one class and less confident in another because he or she will be comparing himself or herself with her peers. In order to overcome this problem and ensure that all children in our classes are successful, we must be careful not to let the more confident children dominate a class. If this is happening, we may need to break up the class into groups more. We also need to ensure that one team does not win too many games. Most important of all, we need to find ways to give each child a sense of accomplishment with tasks that are appropriate for his or her level.

We should maintain a calm atmosphere in which we do not become nervous or irritable and the children do not become antagonistic. Any irritability on our part will undermine their respect for us, and can easily lead to them underperforming, which can make us even more irritated!

However, it is also important to be honest about our feelings. If we are hurt by something one of the children has done, we can show that we are hurt. We can also be honest about how we feel about bad behavior. Wherever possible, we should do this in a way that gets the children's sympathy and understanding. This may not work with an extremely badly behaved child, but at least we will probably have the support of most of the other children in the class. If we lose our temper, blame the whole class, or take measures that are too drastic, we are likely to lose their respect.

If we respect and care about each of the children and treat each of them as special, valuable individuals, they are much more likely to have a positive attitude in our lessons and respect and care about us. We should know their names, know what they are interested in, know about their families and much more. We should know just as much about the badly behaved children as the well behaved children, and just as much about the quiet children as the noisy ones. If we can find it in us to respect and love each of the children, there is a very good chance they will respect and love us in return. Paul, principal of David English House in Hiroshima, is an experienced teacher trainer who has worked in Japan, South Korea and Thailand. His column focuses on child-centered education.


David Paul — Special to The Daily Yomiuri






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