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You Don’t Have To Like Every Student – But if You’re Not Keen on any, Maybe Reconsider your Career

It’s hard to imagine many child haters deciding to teach, but to students it sometimes seems that a few slip in

  • You Don’t Have To Like Every Student – But if You’re Not Keen on any, Maybe Reconsider your Career

It will come as no surprise to anyone to discover that the relationships between a teacher and her students matter.

While this truism is sometimes over-egged – it’s patently untrue to say we can’t learn from those we don’t like – feeling that a teacher likes you and wants the best for you can make a real difference. Liking kids is – or probably should be – a prerequisite for a career in teaching.

It’s hard to imagine many child haters deciding to teach, but it sometimes seems that a few slip in. Or certainly, that’s the perception of students. If my daughters are anything to go by, children implicitly divide the teachers in their schools into those who like kids and those who don’t.

If you’re a teacher and you don’t want to spend time with your eager charges, it may be time to think about moving on to pastures new. Time spent getting to know children, getting to know their culture as well as the details of their lives isn’t – or shouldn’t be – an effortful, tedious slog. It should bring you some small amount of joy.

Of course you can fake it. Sometimes you’ll have to. But being insincere is exhausting and unlikely to fool many for very long.

Love their best selves

This much is obvious, but there are some important caveats. Teachers who profess to ‘love the naughty kids’ do their students a disservice. We should strive to like kids at their best and to communicate our high expectations that they should always try to be their best selves. If we tacitly reward them for rudeness or disobedience, we’re communicating that these things are OK. This not only makes it harder for children to be clear on how to behave but it undermines the efforts of your colleagues.

Better, much better, to acquire a reputation for being the champion of the quiet, unseen children, to love the toilers and triers. Anyone can enjoy spending time with those who are likeable, but the awkward, the isolated and the lonely need our attention much more. It’s easy to gush over those who achieve the remarkable, but what about those who put in the hard yards every day without ever excelling?

Kindness isn’t enough

So, of course relationships matter, but can psychologists tell us anything about this that we don’t already know? Maybe. Here are a few dos and don’ts gleaned from studies into teacher-student relationships:

Don’t assume that being kind and respectful to students is enough to bolster achievement. Ideal classrooms have more than one goal: teachers should hold students to appropriately high standards of academic performance and offer opportunities to connect emotionally to their teachers, their fellow students and the school.

Don’t give up too quickly on your efforts to develop positive relationships with difficult students. These young people will benefit from a good teacher-student relationship as much or more than their more easy-going peers.

Don’t assume that respectful and sensitive interactions are only important to younger learners. Older students still need to feel that their teachers respect their opinions and interests – even when they appear not to care about what teachers do or say.

Don’t just wait for bad behaviour to happen. Instead, take a proactive stance on promoting a positive social experience by including students in discussions about healthy social interactions and model how to be functioning members of society.

All students will benefit from a safe and secure environment and we should provide clear boundaries and behaviour expectations to ensure the respect of others and the virtues of not punching each other.

My advice boils down to five very simple principles:

  1. Learn their names (a seating plan will help)
  2. Tell them they’re your favourite class (even if they’re not)
  3. Know their data (Are they August born? Have they got siblings? How did they do in KS2? What’s their reading age? Are they on medication?)
  4. Talk to them
  5. Value their responses

David Didau is an independent education consultant and writer. He blogs at learningspy.co.uk.

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