Being liked

Recently I was hanging out with a friend who's also a teacher. We were talking about a variety of teaching stuff, as we are wont to do, when the conversation turned to teacher popularity. Both of us tend to be pretty well-liked (though I was definitely more popular this year than last year), and we've both had colleagues make disparaging remarks about us for that, saying that it's because our classes are easy.

And you know, I really resent that. My class is not easy – my kids work their butts off for me. I just find ways to make it fun (sometimes, at least), and I talk to them about why we're doing what we're doing, and why it matters for them. I also tell them explicitly that their success matters to me, and that I care about them. I praise them regularly, and I talk to them about their lives. Sometimes I reward them with their choice of candy, pencils, or PBS Bucks (Positive Behavior Support, not the Public Broadcasting System) for them doing well on something, or just because. I greet them in the hallways and I laugh at their jokes. When they're struggling, we talk about why they're having trouble and I ask them to come in after school or at lunch for help. If they don't do it on their own, I go and find them in the lunchroom and bring them with me. I let them come into my room at lunch to play games or talk or use the computers. We have fun together, and they know I love them, and that's why they like me, NOT because my class is easy.

I believe it's okay to be liked by my students. It means they try harder for me. It means they're more comfortable talking to me about their problems, which helps me understand them where they're coming from and how that impacts their schoolwork. It means that I can use our relationship to encourage them to do better or to express my disappointment when they fall apart. It means that I don't have management issues with some kids who tear other classes apart.

Yesterday was my first official mentoring meeting with the Charmer. He and I talked for a while, some about his issues with school, some about the world in general.

My favorite part of the conversation came when we were discussing how one of his teachers believes that I fix problems for him. I was trying to figure out how to explain that a lot of teachers prefer a more formal approach, that they don't feel comfortable giving up their personal time (lunch, or after school, or what have you) and that that's okay, though it's not how I work. So I started with, “You know, some people think I'm overinvolved with my students--”

“You are,” he interrupted.

I looked at him, flummoxed. Because, um, plenty of people would probably consider me mentoring him to be overinvolvement. And perhaps he did too and this was his way of letting me know. I tried to figure out how to respond, as he continued.

“That's not a bad thing, though. You just care about your students more, and you spend time with them, and you get to know them better.”

Clearly my friend here didn't understand the prefix “over”, as the implication in its use (or not even implication, but flat out meaning) was that I was too involved, but rather than start critiquing his use of the English language, I felt it would be more productive to just address what he was talking about and bring it back to my original intent in the conversation. “Right, but it takes a lot of time to do that--”

Interrupted again. “But that's what makes you more dedicated. That's what makes you a better teacher than them.” I smiled at that and thanked him. He continued, “Honestly, I think they're just jealous because kids like you more and like your class more and they don't have that.”

Don't you love it when they suck up like that? And when they totally validate your own feelings on a subject?

When the Charmer, his mom and I all sat down last week, his mom ended the conversation by saying, “You know, I can see how you're the type of teacher that students just love.” I laughed and said something about how there were plenty of kids who wouldn't agree with that statement (I am, after all, a big fat meanie), but I really don't think it's a problem to be liked. It makes my life and their lives easier, and isn't that a good thing in the end?

(Photo credit to dhammza,


Rachel said...

Interesting thoughts! I admit I am skeptical of teachers who are especially popular. In my school, it really IS the case that those teachers are usually easy (*cough COACHES cough*) - "teachers" who often just show movies. Then there are a few who are just very young, and I watch dubiously, wondering if trying to be more of a friend to students than a mentor.

I will also admit sme of it is jealousy. Who doesn't want to be well-liked, you know? Unfortunately, that's not me. The teacher I am jealous of, for instance, is much more outgoing than I am. I am an introvert. It takes a lot of effort for me to engage my students in the same way she does. I think my students know that I care about them and want them to do well...but I'm just not as gregarious as she is, so they gravitate towards her. I'm coming to terms with this. Hopefully those other teachers who are jealous of you will be able to make peace with themselves, too. :)

teachin' said...

Thanks for leaving such a long and thoughtful comment, Rachel!

I think there are definitely teachers who are known for....less rigorous instruction, shall we say, and some of them are well liked. But some of them, I think, are just appreciated for being easy and the kids have no real respect for them. If you aren't respected too, it goes nowhere. A teacher at my school who is incredibly easy got literally no applause at the end of the year ceremony - the kids know he doesn't give a shit about them and they feel the same about him.

"I'm a dreamer but I ain't the only one Got problems but we love to have fun" -K'naan, "Dreamer"

I teach eighth grade Language Arts at an urban school. My kids kick ass and will change the world. I want everyone to know.
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