Learning Curve/Perspective: Respect goes two ways

What is respect? Why are some teachers revered while others are not? Five students from Petaling Jaya share their thoughts with KOH SOO LING.

A PARENT brings an offspring to a school and he trusts the teacher to educate the child even if it means disciplining him.

If the child breaks school rules, the contrite parent will go to the principal’s office and apologise. That would have been the scene three decades ago.

But today we hear of intrusive and adversarial parents marching to the school to demand explanations for minor disciplinary actions and students rising up in arms against teachers.

Students’ respect for teachers no longer holds the same meaning now.

Take the case of Ella Tan (not her real name) who has been teaching in a rural school for the past 20 years. She vividly remembers a lesson on anatomy.

After having distributed diagrams of the human body to her students, she wanted them to label the parts of the body. All the students had to do was to select words listed on the board to fill in the blanks. One boy kept staring at the blackboard while others were busy scribbling. Ella walked to his desk and said: “Just choose the right words and fill in the blanks.”

The boy gave her a cold, hard stare and was uncooperative.

Sensing that the class was about to end, Ella went on to encourage him to complete his task when all of a sudden, he got up and in a fit of rage pushed the desk towards her, almost pinning the pint-sized teacher to the wall.

Just as stories of students who do not respect teachers abound, we also hear of teachers punishing students without giving them a chance to defend themselves.

Adrian Yeong Weng Kay, a Form Four student of SMK USJ 12 lamented: “I had a Mathematics teacher who blamed us because the class was distracted. She kept scolding us. That was very unfair. In contrast, my former counselling teacher cared about us and tried to understand us.”

There are two types of respect. The first is basic human regard whereby we acknowledge other individuals as sovereign entities.

The second is respect which one receives when other people hold one in high esteem. Everyone deserves the first form, and the other is earned through one’s deeds and actions.

However, in some cases, youths are not respected as sovereign entities and, as a result, are subjected to poor treatment by parents, schools and employers. Consequently, many older people claim that youths have no respect.

According to experts, the first form of respect must first be given to people without strings attached in order for them to earn the second form — without the first, the second is worthless or unattainable.

It may come as a surprise to many, but respect is a two-way process. A dictatorial parent who demands absolute obedience unknowingly sows the seeds of rebellion in his child. People in authority, whether at the workplace or in school, do not escape this cause and effect sequence either.

So, what commands respect from students?

Shawn Kang Jia Wei, a Form Three student at SMK SS17, spoke fondly of his Form Two Bahasa Melayu teacher who was strict but effective.

“We respect teachers who understand students and do not over-react to small mistakes made by them. When we heard that a certain Bahasa Melayu teacher was going to teach us, we were terrified. Later it turned out that we learnt the most from her that year.”

Darryl Edwin Nathaniel, a Form Five student at SMK USJ 13, agreed. To him, a teacher can either “make” or “break” a child. Students admire teachers who see beyond the sea of faces and guide each child to achieve his goals, hopes and dreams.

“It makes a difference when a teacher scolds us because he cares. Naturally we do not like to be scolded but when a teacher considers our feelings and gives us good advice, that I believe, gains our respect.”

Students also look up to teachers who are in control.

Jason Kang Ping Hong, a Form Four student from SMK Seafield, cited the example of a former teacher who always cried when she was under pressure.

“We needed a teacher who is patient enough to try to understand us without nagging. Instead, we faced someone who wept frequently and it was difficult because we had to understand her! It is difficult to respect someone like that.”

Teachers who exemplify the dogmas of the educational establishment are greatly regarded.

“I think the teacher’s first love should be teaching. When she is passionate about it, she will then try to make the class interesting.”

Sad to say, there are teachers who do not like teaching. To make matters worse, they are unsure of what to teach.

“One of my teachers read straight from the textbook. Most of us fell asleep and we hardly learnt anything from her. She piled homework on us, maybe to make up for her lack of teaching skills,” said Shawn Kang.

Agreeing with Shawn, Julian Yong Khim Yoong, another Form Four student from SMK USJ 12, stressed that students respect teachers who are resourceful and explain clearly until her students understand.

“There is this teacher who doesn’t know what she is teaching and can’t explain well either. We all ended up as confused as her,” said Julian.

Respect is a basic right. But there is a need for adjustment and adaptation. There will be frustrating situations and it is crucial to know how to control emotions and behaviour. Inculcating and receiving respect is a daily process even when Teachers’ Day is over.

The writer is an Associate of the Office of Academic Affairs and an Associate Professor at the Academy of Language Studies, Universiti Teknologi MARA, Shah Alam.