Giving and Getting

Dear Terrence,

I’m distressed. I have tried my best to show you respect: I have never yelled at you; I have never tried to humiliate you in class; I have cut you slack whenever I can. Yet of late, all I get from you is disrespect.

Your insistence on putting your head down in class is a prime example. That is nonverbal communication. You’re saying, “Look, I don’t care what you have to say. I don’t care what you’re trying to do for me. Screw you.” Perhaps you’re not trying to say that, but body language often communicates things unintentionally.

However, the same cannot be said of your tone of voice when you respond to most things I say. We should be aware of our tone of voice because, unlike our body language, we can hear it for ourselves. And it is something that can easily be controlled. But perhaps you’re not even aware of that. We all have our own filters: perhaps your filter doesn’t alert you to the disrespect in your tone of voice. Perhaps you’ve never received deliberate instruction in interpreting and controlling your tone of voice. Or maybe you just don’t care to do so. Whatever the reason, when I speak to you respectfully and you respond as you do, it makes it very difficult for me to continue keeping a calm, cool voice. Perhaps that’s one reason why you find yourself getting yelled at so often: it’s something of a self-fulfilling prophecy. It’s that “give respect/get respect” dichotomy. Sure, adults should behave differently, but we are, after all, only human.

I can’t make you work in my classroom. But I can make sure that everyone who is in my classroom treats me and everyone else in the class respectfully. Unless you can rein in your tone of voice, I’m afraid you won’t be able to remain in my classroom.

Your Teacher in Room 302


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