Manners Are Elementary
Addressing Them Is Important
Miss Johnson, would you please go to the board and solve the first problem? I ask. Do you ever speak this way with your students? I certainly did not in my first few years of teaching. However, I do it now without even thinking about it. Why? Because it fits my style, and I've learned it produces results - good manners and respect.
Every teacher and support staff - beginning with pre-kindergarten - teaches manners and respect. We teach our students daily through our phrasing of questions and responses and, especially, through our actions.
"Miss Johnson, thank you for correctly solving the first problem." For some of the students in my third grade classroom in Sun Prairie, Wisconsin, this is the first time they've been called "Miss" or "Mister" or "Master." I discuss these titles in one of our first English lessons on abbreviations. The discussion winds its way into one of manners and the showing of respect. Why does Mr. Lessor call you by these titles? Has anyone ever called you by one of these abbreviations?
An interesting side-discussion revolves around the title "Master," which seems to have fallen by the wayside in our culture. (It used to be the written form of address for boys under the age of 13.) I relay the story that as a youngster I was sent letters by my grandparents that were labeled "Master Louis Lessor." This becomes a great mini-lesson on culture and language.
After sixteen years in education, I'm still amazed at how my actions are mirrored by my students. Admittedly they aren't always the ones that should be mirrored! One year, I used the term "Sparky" after a less-than-successful, time-intensive response by a student. "Thank you, Sparky, for finally coming up with an answer." Eek…that one still haunts me to this day. But I realize I'm not perfect. I'm a good educator, but I'm also human. My students picked up on this cool new term and used it on that student and others until I redirected them with some better, and more respectful, terminology. Why is it that they catch that one mistake and yet miss the hundreds of positive cues you try to give them?
Here are some tips I've learned that are positive approaches, respectful of students, and helpful in eliciting better behavior and manners from students. At the beginning of the year, I discuss with my students the best ways to communicate with each other. I let them know that I want everyone listening to the lesson, so in each class, I make sure everyone is listening before beginning the lesson. I let them know how to signal to me—with a raised hand—that they want to talk or ask a question or answer a question. After that, I call on students (with their titles) if their hand is up. I discourage shouting out answers, and as the students "catch on," they, too, began to discourage their classmates from shouting out answers. Their lesson: When we communicate with each other using manners and respect, we work better together.
Through our daily activities, we demonstrate to our students the value of manners. Addressing them with respect and treating them with respect are two ways I use. It produces results—a pleasant working environment and people treating you as you treat them. And the bonus for students—they learn that with good behavior, they are likely to be given more opportunities to take on responsibilities and earn rewards. Well-mannered students are also a very kind and thoughtful gift to send off to next year’s teacher!
About the Author
Louis Lessor, an educator for 16 years, teaches third grade in Sun Prairie, Wisconsin. He currently serves as vice president of the Sun Prairie Education Association and he has been editor of local newsletter Speaks Out since 2000. In 2005, he was an affiliate nominee for the 2005 NEA Foundation's Award for Teaching Excellence.