Friday, July 31, 2009

Do you have to like your students? Yes!

Above everything else, you have to like the kids you work with. Whether they’re teenagers, middle-school kids or elementary kids. It seems like an overly obvious point, but we've all worked with many teachers who don’t seem to understand, love their kids or even like them. All students will soon be adults like you and me and we should treat them as such, not as “evil” or broken creatures that we must "fix." We have to build our classes and lessons with some leeway for kids to be kids.

If you get into teaching and you find you are upset all the time and kids aren’t behaving like you think they should or reacting like you think they should, perhaps you should adjust what you think kids are. It’s not a matter of lowering expectations. There has been some research showing that teachers who account for this bit of spontaneity in the classroom, letting kids be who they actually are, are more effective than teachers who clamp down on every “out of line” response or action. These overly controlling teachers will actually miss teaching opportunities because of this inflexibility. When teachers control too much, kids shut down (See Malcolm Gladwell's "Most Likely to Succeed") .

The roots of this rely on rhetorical theory which says you must know your audience first and foremost. If you are speaking to an audience you are not seeing, your message will never get across. The kids will sense your dislike and constant disappointment.

Kids that may seem hopeless and immature early on in life actually will have a psychological shift in their early 20’s and figure a lot out. I think we have to treat them all respectfully as if they all have that potential to make that change at all points in their K-12 existence. Once you make that perceptual change, to where you’re actually seeing kids for what they are, and adjust your lessons, your personality and your rhetoric to your audience then you will be much more successful and happier too.

When you love your kids and don’t see them as the enemy, you are more likely to listen to them and hear them. They will sense this respect and be more honest with you. This is one way to get over this insane adversarial relationship that has developed in so many American schools. Look at our films and our archetypal characters like Ferris Buehler or Bart Simpson. How can we have a culture in which we rebel against education?

Even more crucial than everything else: If you don’t love your kids, you will not have the energy to sustain your effort day after day, month after month, class after class, essay after essay. When you’ve lost your passion for kids and their learning and opening up the world, everything becomes a drudgery. Without that spark you probably won't do that one extra thing that was going to make a difference for that kid.

In teaching, you are overworked. You will be given much more of a caseload and a task than you can accomplish reasonably. Without that magic infused into everything that you do, you will fall short sooner or later. So yes, you have to like your kids!


  1. Hi Rob! This is a great idea! Yes, I agree. I think you have to like your students in order to be an effective (not to mention happy) teacher. I tell potential new teachers all the time to choose their teaching path by age group, rather than subject. We teach kids, after all. Yes, we offer standards-based instruction designed to empower kids to develop their reading, writing and critical thinking skills. But none of that will happen if kids don't feel respected and comfortable in the classroom. We do have to set boundaries and establish a peaceful environment, but flexibility is important.

    Great work, Rob! I'll be subscribing to your RSS and keeping up with your posts. :-)

    Suzi V (LCCHS)

  2. Thanks Suzi! I'm hoping to build a real community here so we can all think about and discuss important issues that often fall through the cracks. I've already learned a lot this summer reading and thinking about teaching.

  3. And teachers must be able to see the humor of kids being kids. Laughter is a key ingredient of a successful classroom.

    America has to get over this adverserial vision of teachers and students so teachers can embrace the power and wonder of students.


  4. Yes Blaze, that's part of the core message of this blog and one of my future posts. In some way, as teachers, we have an obligation to be happy and healthy. There is no way to consistently fake that laughter and joy of teaching and learning. Thanks for the comment!

  5. How ironic that we'd have to remind ourselves how important awareness of audience is ("the roots of this rely on rhetorical theory which says you must know your audience first and foremost")--it's in the English standards for high school :-). We teach them to do it; one would hope we knew to do it as well. Thanks for the reminder! Great idea for a blog.