Last month during Community Time for freshmen and sophomores, my fellow Latin teacher, Ms. Seat, described what the Core Value of Respect meant to her. She began with the origin of the word “respect,” from its Latin root respicere, meaning “to look again.” She explained to the students that respect involves two kinds of seeing—seeing who someone really is and seeing with your imagination the fullness of the person you do not get to see in your daily interactions. “Observation and imagination,” she said, are the twin keys to respect. She quoted the poet Wendell Berry who wrote, “Respect, I think, always implies imagination—the ability to see one another, across our inevitable differences, as living souls.” As soon as we really see someone, it follows that we will naturally show them the respect they deserve.
Since I heard that story, I have been asking myself how we as teachers see our students both with our eyes and with our imagination. In the last week alone, I have seen many examples, but I will share only two:
This week Ms. Benson used the R&R period (our schoolwide 15 minutes of independent reading) to ask a few of her Bible students whether they enjoyed the books they were reading. “No, I don’t,” replied one scholar. “I tried reading the book this summer, and I didn’t like it then, either.” Ms. Benson, leading the student to the bookshelf, immediately helped her find a new book she might enjoy. For me, this is a familiar story at Collegiate. A teacher sees the face of a student who is not enthralled with their paperback and then goes further to imagine the reader that this student is becoming.
Upstairs, Mr. Pillow sets aside 10 minutes of English class daily to confer individually with seniors. Instead of assigning them one book to read each quarter, he mentors students in the process of choosing books that interest them and gives them the freedom (and the time) to read them. This week, Mr. Pillow heard from a senior that, although she had not read enthusiastically in the past, she was now reading for an hour at night and had finished her fourth book in six weeks. Her teacher sees her personal preferences in books and, with the eyes of imagination, treats her like the adult reader she is already growing to be. And she is growing according to the measure of respect paid to her.
Collegiate teachers see our students—both who they are now and who they are becoming. The culture of respect begins with the respect of teachers for students and grows outward, until by the grace of God everyone feels seen.