Kids Can't Learn From Teachers They Don't Like

Rita Pierson grabbed the spotlight and spurred a great conversation with her recent TED Talk titled Every Kid Needs a Champion (below).  In her talk she asserts the title of this blog--'kids can't learn from teachers they don't like'.  A statement like this would likely sound like heresy to rigid traditionalists.

'I'm not here to be their friend'.

'I don't care if they don't like me'.

I remember teachers in my youth that made statements like this.  I even remember having instructors in college who reminded us that 'we are not there to be their friends'.

While all of this is true to some degree, being 'liked' by your students opens opportunities that wouldn't exist without the foundation of a strong relationship.  Your students need to know that you care about them and feel the passion you have for  your class.  If you don't show that you care and have passion, why should they?  And you have to be authentic.  Students can sniff out someone being 'fake' like a shark smelling blood in the water.  They have to truly believe that you care about them and the stories they tell, and wow, do they have some stories to tell! Listening to your students and asking them questions about their lives is an investment that will pay dividends throughout the year.  Building meaningful relationships with your students is the cornerstone of effective classroom management.  Here are some ideas:
  • Ask questions--Show a genuine interest in students' lives by asking questions and then checking in throughout the year.  
  • Be funny--I know its 'not your job to entertain them', but humor goes a long way and makes a good first impression.
  • Individualize your relationships--I used to be able to describe the character of a class period, but not necessarily the individual students before I moved to conversations as my main assessment method.
  • Let them teach you--Students love it when you are open enough to allow them to teach you something.  Its an act of sincerely listening and students eat it up because they love to be heard.
  • Talk to them after/out of school--While I'm sure its been a long day, going to watch their game or chatting with them after school will earn you  a great deal of credibility. 
  • Let them be heard--Most students love to be heard.  Their families, dislikes, funny stories, pets, etc. all provide good material for conversations and the beginning of a productive relationship.  
  • Be playful--Once you have established the foundation for a relationship and that your class is a place of learning, its OK to lighten things up a little with some playful behavior and non-offensive sarcasm. There is a fine line here, but a little play will go a long way to show students you care about them as a person, not just as a student.
  • Be the captain--Being open and playful requires the need to drop the hammer too.  Students need boundaries, and they actually like it when you fairly keep them within class expectations.  I alway error on the side of fairness when I have to discipline students.  
Many students come to school without the first levels of Maslow's Hierarchy satisfied   How can we expect a student to learn if they feel hungry, unsafe, or unloved?  As effective teachers, it has become an unspoken part of our jobs to find a way to bridge these gaps left by a bad home life.  Many of us would probably agree we are part teacher, part counselor.

Building an organic, individual relationship with our students will have a greater impact on learning than any piece of technology or model of pedagogy.  If we scoff at the idea that 'kids can't learn from teachers they don't like', we are undermining any other measure that we believe is effective and spinning our educational wheels.  

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