It was the first day of school and it was raining. Puddles were forming fast and I made sure to step in as many as I could. We were to have a new teacher this year! We were his very first class, a class of fourth graders! There were imperative duties that came along with being in the fourth grade. Such as, taking our own baths, watching our younger siblings, mowing the lawn, and completing more homework. Being a fourth grader definitely had its responsibilities.
He stood at the door with a smile so welcoming you couldn’t help but smile back. He wore dark, pressed slacks, dress shoes, a white button down shirt and a red tie. He was shaking each one of our hands, looking us straight in the eyes and saying, “Welcome to a new school year! Thank you so much for being here! Please, take any seat!” His delight took most of us aback; we were shocked, I think, by his eagerness. A striking contrast to all of the other teachers we’ve had who would just shuffle us into our assigned seats and, with a grumpy face, start going over the classroom rules: no throwing, no spitting, no hitting, no talking. A droning list drilled into our heads since the first day of kindergarten; the more it was repeated, the less we remembered its importance.
We all scrambled to find our seats, being a little surprised to find the desks grouped in mini semicircles scattered about the room, instead of the typical rows and columns. When we all finished filing in and had taken our seats, our new teacher made his way to the front of the room. He stood front and center with his hands in his pockets. After a long while he finally spoke, “I have only one classroom rule, and it is Respect.”
I have respect for my parents, my family, my teachers, and myself. I have respect for my friends and their values. I have respect for my teacher, Mr. Darragh, who taught me an important lesson in life, and the way he taught it was by example. He respected us fourth graders by not bogging us down with mind-numbing rules, but instead allowing us to exercise our free agency. He respected us to make the right choices, just so long as we respected that when we made a wrong choice we would be accountable for it. He had respect for us ten year olds, at a time in our lives when not many other people did, and I have grown to respect that.
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