Has respect left the classroom?

Local educators say relationships at school are changing, not worsening

A new poll says Americans think respect has left the schools, but local teachers and administrators say scholarly relationships are shifting – not deteriorating.

Only 31 percent of Americans believe students respect teachers today, compared to about 80 percent who say students respected teachers when they were in school, according to a Harris Poll conducted late last year.

The survey found many Americans think respect has deflated from other relationships, too – between teachers, parents and administrators.

But Kris LeMoine, a biology teacher at Crystal Lake Central High School, said she hasn’t seen the respect leave the classroom in her 19 years of teaching.

The teacher-student relationship is different than in past generations, she said. Not worse.

“I think a lot of the respect is maybe more genuine than it used to be,” LeMoine said.

She suggested the changing nature of certain relationships might come off negatively – as the decline of respect – to some.

“You don’t smack kids in the hand with a ruler,” LeMoine said. “Years and years ago, there was that fear.”

Vicki Larson, principal of Dean Street Elementary School in Woodstock, agreed the level of respect hasn’t fallen. She said changing dynamics within families and at home have made an impact in the classroom, but not necessarily for the worse.

“It’s a different learning environment altogether,” Larson said.

Larson’s students are taught respect through a mentoring program that partners them with high schoolers once a week. The program – which pairs about 50 District 200 high school students with first- through fifth-graders at Dean Street – has made a positive social and emotional impact on Dean Street students, Larson said.

“The kids are learning from their models how to be respectful and what good character is, and how do we demonstrate that throughout our day,” she said.

In Harvard District 50, schools are a few years into a program called Positive Behavior Interventions & Supports, which aims to teach strong character from the first day at school, incentivizing good behavior.

“We can’t assume that you have any of the skills you need to come into school and get along with others – those wonderful social skills,” Superintendent Lauri Tobias said. “So we teach them all.”