Dear Dr. Linda,

My issue with the educational system is not with academics. It’s with the teachers themselves and how they speak and treat their students. I understand fully that the majority of them are stressed due to factors such as class size, unrealistic academic expectations and lack of respect towards teachers shown by many adults and students. I know because I’ve been teaching for over 30 years.

But, teachers can’t take their anger and frustrations out on their students. As I walked past one of my colleague’s classroom the other day, I overheard him screaming at the class. He’s not the only teacher I work with who has anger control issues, is sarcastic, or downright rude.

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Our children will not be as successful as we wish them to be if teachers only focus on the academics and ignore their feelings. As teachers, we’re role models. We come right after parents. If teachers and parents don’t set a good example of how human beings need to treat each other, then the fabric of our society will continue to disintegrate.

Respectfully,

Mrs. K.

Dear Mrs. K.,

Bravo! Here’s an old tale that you’d appreciate:

One rainy day, the king took a walk with his two children. He held an umbrella in each hand to cover and protect each child. A bystander approached and said, “Why are you protecting your children from the rain? You are the king! They should be protecting you.”

His highness sagely replied, “If I do not show them respect, how will they learn to respect me? How will they learn to respect others? How will they learn to respect themselves?”

We teach and earn respect by modeling respectful behavior toward ourselves and each other. Therefore, when a child at home or in school experiences anger, frustration or trouble with a subject, and perhaps acts out in response, parents and teachers need to think about what they want to teach them about managing their negative feelings.

It seems that some teachers have forgotten or were never taught in college that the emotional environment they create in their classrooms will help determine how much learning takes place. The climate established by parents sets the mood of the home. Likewise, the climate established by teachers sets the mood of the classroom. As the most influential people in children’s lives, teachers and parents have more power over them than they think. Children use us as mirrors. If we’re sarcastic and rude to them, they’ll learn to be sarcastic and rude to others. Children who are treated with respect will treat both themselves and others with respect.

Here are some reminders for teachers (and parents) about how our interactions with children impact them:

• Be aware of the messages you send to children and how they may perceive them.

• Know that the manner in which you speak to children can promote or diminish their self-esteem.

• Put yourself in your children’s shoes, just as you would do when you’re speaking to an adult. How does what’s happening likely feel to them? What is likely causing them to react the way they are? What do they really need in the way of emotional support? What behavior do you need to model for them?

• Are your comments to them likely constructive or destructive? What does your face look like when you speak? What does your voice sound like? What does your body language convey?

Remember that children don’t have the full range of experiences yet that allow them to more accurately perceive the reasons for your actions toward them (or that even adult behavior may be inappropriate). Good or bad, they “hear” unspoken messages you don’t even know you’re sending.

The way our children and students think their teachers and parents view them—even if they say otherwise or their perceptions are wrong—affects the way they view themselves. If students believe that their teachers value them and expect the best from them, they are more likely to feel worthy of that respect.

Dr. Linda