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Being a Popular Teacher Is Not Always Cool

Posted by on in Classroom Management
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It’s that bittersweet time of year for teachers everywhere. No matter when you head off to school, you will have to leave your summer days behind. Even if you work a full-time job in the summer months, those sunny days are probably more carefree than when you have to face a room full of lively students with diverse needs and set to work shaping them into a cohesive community of learners.

It’s not easy to make the connections that will make every student become a valued member of the class. Creating those bonds takes time, energy, effort, and serious planning. The result is certainly worth it, however. Positive relationships between student and teacher are often regarded as the most powerful motivational force in any classroom.

Unfortunately, it is very easy to misjudge what it takes to create those positive relationships. Many of us do. It is especially easy to do when you are just beginning your teaching career and are uncertain about the right course of action to take to establish the type of relationships that will help your students be successful. It's not ever easy to make the tough decisions that will help you establish the kinds of positive relatonships that are going to work for you and your students in the long run.

One of the easiest ways to go wrong when trying to connect with students is to become a popular teacher for all of the wrong reasons. In this excerpt from The First-Year Teacher’s Survival Guide, some of the warning signs that any teacher will want to avoid are spelled out for those of us who are already planning how to create the positive classroom environment that we want for our students.

“It is natural to want to be liked. It is a wonderful experience to be in a mall or a restaurant and hear a young voice joyfully calling your name or to look out over a classroom full of students who are hanging on to your every word. The problem with being a well-liked teacher is that it is sometimes such an exhilarating feeling that you are reluctant to give it up, even when you should.

It is much more pleasant to hear your students cheer when you tell them there will be no homework than to hear their groans when you give a challenging assignment. Choices like this constitute a teacher’s day. As a teacher, you should base your decisions not on what your students want at the moment but on what they need for the future. Students can be shortsighted; you should not be.

There are many legitimate reasons for your students to like you. Are your classes interesting? Do you treat everyone with respect? Are you inspiring? Unfortunately, there are many other reasons for your students to like you that are seductive traps; you must avoid these by thinking of your students’ needs. If you ever overhear your students make any of the following statements about you, you are becoming popular for the wrong reasons:

She’s an easy grader.

He’s just like us.

We’re friends on Facebook.

He never calls home, no matter what I do.

She never makes us do real work in that class.

We never have to take notes.

She doesn’t really care if we swear.

He likes to joke around with us.”

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Julia G. Thompson received her BA in English from Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University in Blacksburg. She has been a teacher in the public schools of Virginia, Arizona, and North Carolina for more than thirty-five years. Thompson has taught a variety of courses, including freshman composition at Virginia Tech, English in all of the secondary grades, mining, geography, reading, home economics, math, civics, Arizona history, physical education, special education, graduation equivalency preparation, and employment skills. Her students have been diverse in ethnicity as well as in age, ranging from seventh graders to adults. Thompson currently teaches in Fairfax County, Virginia, where she is an active speaker and consultant. Author of Discipline Survival Guide for the Secondary Teacher, First-Year Teacher’s Checklist, The First-Year Teacher’s Survival Guide, and The First-Year Teacher’s Survival Guide Professional Development Training Kit, Thompson also provides advice on a variety of subjects through her Web site, www.juliagthompson.com; on her blog, juliagthompson.blogspot.com; and on Twitter at https://twitter.com/TeacherAdvice.

  • Guest
    Brad C. Wednesday, 29 July 2015

    Great article! However, I disagree with the last statement "he likes to joke around with is". This is something very important with students. Do u joke around all the time of course not. Do students need to learn serious learning time mode, and when u r being funny, silly and/or sarcastic yes! My class management is exceptional and I never aim to be liked(although that does happen with some students) just to be respected and for them to know I truly care about them and have their best interests at heart. IMO you should remove that last comment.

  • Julia G Thompson | @TeacherAdvice
    Julia G Thompson | @TeacherAdvice Sunday, 29 November 2015

    Hi Brad,
    Thanks for your thoughtful comment. I completely agree with you in the way that you describe exceptional classroom management. I certainly could have expressed the last bullet better! It is important for students to laugh with their teachers and to learn in pleasant and relaxed classrooms where they can be comfortable. I could have expressed myself better if I had said something along the lines of "...jokes with us instead of teaching." Sorry for the delay in my response to you; I am now more savvy about how to check for comments and respond in a timely fashion. Again, thanks for your insight. I hope you are having a good school year. Your students are fortunate to have a teacher who knows that it is important to let them know that you care about them and have their best interests at heart.

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