Respect is the most important factor in being a successful teacher.  If you provide the students with a classroom in which respect is practiced, you have a good chance of being successful.  On the other hand, if your classroom is a respect-free environment, all is lost.

What is respect?

Respect is when one person treats the other as an equal.  When one person respects another, everybody’s thoughts are taken into consideration when making a decision. Everybody’s feelings are treated as equally important.  And, most of all, everybody is treated equally whenever possible.

There are several ways in which somebody can get the respect of another:

  • Earned respect:  If somebody shows themselves to be competent and responsible, over time they will gain the respect of others.  This sort of respect is not assumed, but gained through hard work.
  • Conferred respect:  When one person is above another in a hierarchy, it is assumed that they have the competence and willingness to do things right.  This sort of respect is assumed, but easily lost.
  • Respect through fear:  If one person is made to fear another, they will act deferentially in order to avoid threatened punishment.  This sort of respect isn’t actually respect at all;  it’s compliance gained through fear.
  • Inherent respect:  Everybody has a right to dignity and respect simply because all people deserve to be treated this way.¹  Though most agree that respect of this sort is fundamental to the human condition, it’s usually the first to be discarded when inconvenient.

As teachers, the establishment of basic respect in the classroom is our primary goal, as respect is needed for the classroom to function properly.

Students must respect the teacher

We have all seen classrooms where the teacher has not commanded respect.  These rooms are loud, dirty, and nothing ever happens.  Students may complain that the class is boring and that they never learn anything, but do little to change things.  After all, it’s the teachers job to do this.

Though we don’t usually think of it in this way, the truth is that students want to respect their teachers.  They want to be guided by somebody who knows the subject and will make it interesting.  They want to be excited by the class, and they want to feel good about themselves by doing well.

How do we gain the respect of our students?

  • Act the part.  If you act like a leader, the students will follow.  There is a limit to what they will do for you, of course, but if you occasionally want to try something a little unusual, students are more than happy to see where their leader will take them.  A bonus:  If you start off acting like a leader, you’ll eventually become one for real.
  • Be honest.  Always.  No exceptions.  If you lie to your students about anything, they will realize that you don’t respect them enough to tell the truth.  Believe it or not, students are aware that the world sometimes holds disappointment for them and are capable of dealing with it.
  • Be polite.  Whether you like or dislike a student, you must speak to them politely. Please and thank you go a long way.
  • Admit mistakes.  If you make a mistake, always admit it and take whatever steps are needed to fix it.  Not only is this the right thing to do, but it also stops any parent-teacher or student-teacher disagreements in the dust – after all, how does a parent yell at you when you’ve admitted that you’re completely wrong and pledged to fix the problem?
  • If you’re right, don’t back down.  It is hard to respect somebody who can’t follow through on what they think is right.  Your students may not like it that you’re sticking to your syllabus when it comes to the quiz next Friday, but they will respect it.
  • Treat students as equals.  If you teach high school, your students are just as smart as you are.  They have the same reasoning ability and the same capacity to figure out what’s going on around them.  Because of this, it it absolutely vital that you treat them as equals whenever possible.  That said, it’s also important to remember that your students may be as smart as you, but they don’t have much experience out in the world.  As a result, treating them as equals doesn’t mean that they have an equal say in what happens – you’re the expert, and as such should always make the final decision.
  • Punishments should always be fair.  If Joe in the back corner cheats on Test #3 and Jane also cheats on the same test, it’s reasonable to punish both of them.  However, it may or may not be reasonable to give them the same punishment.  If Joe is a first-time offender and collapses in humiliated tears when confronted, a lesser punishment may be warranted than would be for Jane, who cheated on the last two tests and laughs off your concern. Remember, as teachers we are striving to be fair, not to be equal.²
  • Praise should always be genuine.  If you always tell students that they’re marvelous, they will believe that they don’t need to improve.  When somebody does their homework, they should not be praised for it because this is what is expected of them.  If they clean up the entire lab without being asked, or if they improve their grades and/or behavior, praise is entirely appropriate.
  • Treat students with respect.  If you don’t extend respect toward somebody, they won’t treat you with respect, either.

General tips to remember:

So, have you yet achieved the respect of your students?  Here are some things that might look like respect but aren’t:

  • Compliance is not respect.  Though students will comply with the requests of a teacher they respect, they will also comply with the requests of a teacher they fear.  In the first case, they comply because they believe in what’s happening.  In the latter, they’re usually just biding their time until they can pull something over on you.
  • Love is not respect.  When I was a freshman in high school I had an English teacher I loved.  She would meditate with us in class to get us in the mood to learn, she would give us group projects and then allow us a couple of weeks of class time to get them done, and she would let us grade ourselves on how we did.  All of us absolutely loved her and her class.  We also thought she was an idiot.  Don’t be that teacher.
  • Good grades don’t indicate respect.  If you’ve got a class full of kids who really need a good grade to get into college, it doesn’t matter who is in the front of the class – they’ll still perform.  And, of course, they’ll perform even better if they respect you and follow you willingly.

Some final words:

If you don’t have respect, you won’t be an effective teacher.  Build respect from the first day of class and you’ll find that it pays off handsomely for the rest of the year.



1.  International law and all major religions recognize that respect and dignity are vital human rights and should be preserved at great cost.  Though this has long been a feature in religion and has always generally been seen as desirable among nations, it’s only recently that the protection of dignity has been actively defended.  Sources:  Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European UnionCaritas in Veritate, Dignity of Mankind,Giving Dignity to Life, Human Dignity and Human Rights Hindu Perspective.

2.  Though treating everything equally may be unfair at times, you have to be very careful if you don’t do the same thing for everybody.  Ask yourself:  Are you giving Joe a lesser punishment because he will learn with a lesser punishment, or do you just like his personality more?  In this way, you must always be honest with yourself as well as with your students. For further discussion of this, have a look at Fair Isn’t Equal by Richard Curwin.

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