Upstanding Members of Society

An article in the local Modiin newspaper tells the story of an old custom slowly returning to schools in the city; that of standing when a teacher enters the room. It’s not an official rule from the heady heights of the Ministry of Education, despite failed national efforts in both 2003 and 2009 to make it so, but it was adopted as policy in parts of southern Israel in an effort to combat escalating violence amongst the youth. However, certain schools further north, including in Modiin, have started to adopt the old-new idea. Many of the primary schools and a few of the high-schools are reported to have done so.

The shocking part of this article came from some of the students who were interviewed, including one, unsurprisingly unnamed, ex-pupil who at the age of eleven decided to trawl through the rule books to find a way to get the idea banned or at least abandoned.

Another pupil decides to claim that teachers do not deserve respect just because they are teachers, but must earn that respect, a view that seems to reflect, at the risk of borrowing a cliché and making me sound old, the youth of today.

“It [standing up] doesn’t make me respect the teacher any more,” claims one pupil, named as Michal. “The fact that I need to stand when a teacher who I don’t respect walks in to the class won’t make me respect them any more.” Echoes of London’s streets and menacing “Are you disrespectin’ me?” types of questions ring in my ears. It’s the sort of confrontational half-question, half-threat that all too often leads directly to violence.

Years ago, a child returning home to complain that he’d been told off by a teacher, for whatever misdemeanor, would have been told off by the parents too. Now, mollycoddling attitudes mean that a child can do no wrong and that the teacher must be at fault, leaving the parents to fight the school rather than support it, even when the child is indeed at fault.

That kind of attitude will instantly breed a mirror image. A child will start finding excuses to not stand when a teacher enters a room, a simple sign of respect and courtesy that should be shown to those helping to shape the future of our children. If a child sees that the parents show no respect, then they will learn that pattern of behaviour and repeat it.

Teachers in Israel have, for many decades, been addressed by their first names. The pros and cons are obvious. There is an element of the personal touch, making the teacher approachable, but on the other hand, it’s very easy to lose authority when it most needs to be asserted.

Judaism teaches that both parents and teachers command respect, even if they have not earned it, just by the status that they hold, although it does not rule out the fact that it’s a two-way street. King David in Tehillim (Psalm 119) clearly states that he has learned from all those who have taught him.

The Talmud in Masechet Ta’anit expands with a short lesson from Rabbi Hanina:

“I learned a great deal from my teachers, I learned more from my friends, but I learned most from my students.” It’s a very delicate balancing act to both command that respect at the same time as making the effort to show that it is truly deserved much in the way that Rabbi Hanina did.

Parents teaching their children that teachers and schools are the enemy are doing a disservice not only to their children, but to themselves too. After all, it’s only a short hop across that fine line before a child sees that respect for an adult, be they teacher or parent, is neither commanded nor enforced.

One high-school teacher, quoted towards the end of the article, bemoans the fact that society today is different, that the relationship between adults and children, particularly teachers and pupils, has changed and that rather than enforcing the stand-up policy, she is grateful if the pupils actually bother turning up to class at all.

“If this custom of standing when a teacher enters the class still exists, then it must be only in primary schools, where teachers are still held somewhere in the realms of demi-gods.” It seems a defeatist attitude of the worst kind.

Although, to a certain extent, she’s right. If schools were to adopt this policy from an early age, if those just starting school accepted it as the norm from the very first day, then they would carry that lesson throughout their entire school career and into life outside of school too. It may take an entire generation of school children, but it needs to start somewhere.

Reasserting the authority of teachers is not just a lesson to be taught at school. It would only work if that same respect was shown by the parents who would work alongside the school rather than be at constant loggerheads. After all, it’s not just charity that begins at home. Education does too.

My eight-year-old accidentally reinforced this message of finding the balance between authority and approachability, when not-so-gently telling me recently that I can’t be her BFF, because best friends are friends. Not parents.

“But you are my Best Aba Forever,” she said.

That’ll do me, thank you. Here’s hoping that I’m up to the task.

About the Author
An Israeli who's returned home after ten years serving the London public as a Paramedic. Author of