Parents: Teach children to respect teachers

Published 12:00 am Sunday, September 17, 2006

Teachers are supposed to be old.

They are too old to be cool, too old to understand kids, and they remember crazy things like life before TV.

The lady teachers wear their gray hair in buns on top of their heads. The men wear their pants hiked up way too far.

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It&8217;s just the way it&8217;s always been.

Old is a perception.

Ms. Bell is 20-x years old, she told her students Monday. No specifics, just an x.

That, she heard, was old.

A discussion about Easter break plans turned into an age guessing game for the students, and x means old. Jesse took the liberty of rounding up.

&8220;Oh, Ms. Bell, you are 30, you are old,&8221; he told her. He was quickly corrected. Twenty-x is not 30.

She must be over 25, the students guessed, naming 26 and 28 as good bets.

And she&8217;s too old to live with her mom, they found out.

I too am 20-x years old, though my x falls below the 25-marker. But these kids don&8217;t think I&8217;m old. They&8217;ve asked me if I&8217;m in college, asked me if I live with my parents and seem to mentally group me as closer to their age than to Ms. Bell&8217;s. (Granted, I tend to act and think like a kid most of the time.)

I&8217;m young enough to be cool. Young enough to understand them, and (before I recently canceled my cable) I&8217;ve never lived life without a TV.

Yet, Ms. Bell and I are both 20-somethings.

Kids perceive age based on the situation. Anyone old enough to be solely in charge of them, to stand in front of them and teach lessons and to work every day is very old. Teachers are old, even the young ones.

I remember my fourth-grade teachers well, Mrs. Still and Mrs. Tidwell. Even now I can&8217;t possibly imagine an age for them then that wasn&8217;t old. I honestly have no idea how old they were then, but the number doesn&8217;t matter, because to me they were old.

It should be getting harder and harder for me to think of teachers as old though. I have friends my age who are teaching. I&8217;ve interviewed local teachers who are my age or younger. And Ms. Bell is only 20-x.

But I do have a confession. Until Monday afternoon it had never crossed my mind that Ms. Bell was only in her 20s. She doesn&8217;t look old; in fact, she looks like she&8217;s in her 20s. When I met her she told me she&8217;d only been teaching a few years. And I know she has young children.

Even with all that information, my brain refused to settle on the fact that a schoolteacher could be close to my age.

I see Ms. Bell and Mrs. Tuccio as older, wiser, more experienced people. I trust their judgment before mine. And I respect them as elders.

I guess I was raised to act this way toward teachers, and my brain never dropped age as the qualifying factor.

If the teachers can forgive me for perpetually thinking they are old, I&8217;m sure my mindset is a good one. I respect them. I trust them, and I bow to their decisions.

Not all parents these days have that mindset though. Teachers constantly struggle with parents who side with their children over the teacher. Sometimes older parents question the authority of a 20-something.

When children see these thoughts and actions they in turn lose respect for their teachers, and then the teachers lose control of the children.

It&8217;s an ugly cycle, but one that will become more prevalent if we stop thinking our teachers are old.

Julie Finley is the managing editor for The Natchez Democrat. She writes a weekly column based on experiences with Marty Tuccio&8217;s homeroom class at McLaurin Elementary. She can be reached at 601-445-3551 or