How to Show Teens Respect So You Can Earn It From Them

You have to give to receive.

Earning Teens' Respect

We’ve all had a student tell us, usually in a fit of rage, “You have to give respect to get it.” Very true. Maybe not the right way of going about it, my young teen friend, but very true. The best teachers know that they can’t teach until they’ve gained the respect of the class. But not all teachers know how to go about earning teens’ respect. Some still subscribe to the idea that since they are the professional, the elder, they deserve it. To some extent that’s true, but true organic respect from a student will mean so much more. Try these tips to elevate your students’ respect for you.

Treat your students like an old friend you enjoy hanging out with.

What do you do with an old friend? Converse. Catch up. Dig into their life and see what it’s like to be them. This doesn’t have to be a daunting or time consuming experience, especially when you may be seeing over 100 students per day. It can be a few simple exchanges during class change (yes, I’ll write you a pass now that I took up all of your time getting to know you), at lunch, during homeroom, or during independent or group work. The trick is figuring out what questions to ask and how to start a “real” conversation that builds the relationship.

Ask something not “basic.”

We all know how far “How’s it going?” will get us with a student. But a “What are you thinking about?” or “What do you have going on this weekend?” could open the door a tiny bit wider for you to obtain a nugget of information that sparks a conversation. Last week a teen said they were taking care of their family. Turns out their family is a bunch of adopted cats. That means I have an animal lover in my class, and one question taught me enough about her that I can integrate pets into lessons. She respects my appreciation for her hobby.


Be awesome in your field.

The old adage “Those who can’t do, teach” is something that floats around in students’ minds, if they aren’t sure you know what you are talking about. Students will naturally respect you if you demonstrate you are knowledgeable, current, and involved in your field. As a journalist and journalism teacher, I try to integrate real-life dilemmas I have in the field into my classroom whenever possible. My creative writing teacher coworker sits with the kids and produces creative writing alongside them. Another coworker is studying her field in another country and reporting back her findings to her students. This is who students want to learn from. Prove you know your stuff, even if it seems like bragging, and they will trust you to teach them the material.

Use courtesies you would with a coworker.


We all had that teacher that someone needed to just tell to be nice. Do you treat your students the same way you would a coworker or even your boss? When you greet them, do you look them in the eye? Do you use common manners? Getting in the habit of asking students instead of telling them will, over time, make them feel they have a choice in the matter and that they want to make the right one for you.

Try to respond to student emails, if you get them, in a timely fashion, as you would with an adult. Observe time limits with them: If your kids are packing up at the end of the bell and it’s causing a power struggle, ensure you are giving them enough time to write down any homework, pack up, and leave when the bell rings. They will interpret this as respect and give it back to you until you are done making announcements.

Show them your mistakes.

Fail in front of your kids, often and boldly. Teach them with pride about “failing up” instead of “messing up,” and the idea that you, too, are learning from your mistakes. If you grade something incorrectly, what a perfect time to model to them the art of being wrong. Teachers are so concerned with not looking wrong that they ruin the student-teacher relationship when they can’t own their missteps. What an amazing example you can set for them, modeling how to act after making a mistake.

Don’t be afraid to laugh at yourself and to acknowledge things you don’t know, even in front of the whole group. Use phrases like “I don’t know. Can someone Google it?” or “Bonus point for whoever can find out that info for tomorrow,” or “Great question, I’ll check on that and get back to you. Can you do that too?” They will respect you for being human—and maybe they will recognize that all their teachers are human, just like they are.

How do you show and earn teens’ respect? We’d love to hear your experiences in our WeAreTeachers HELPLINE group on Facebook.

Plus, what you need to know about today’s teen sleep epidemic.

How to Show Teens Respect So You Can Earn It From Them