Let me tell you a little story before we get into this topic. Right after college graduation, I wasn’t sure what I was going to do. I knew I was going to teach, but I was so broke I couldn’t even pay the $50 to get my teaching certificate processed. I was working at a chain restaurant waiting tables when the principal of the school I did my student teaching in sat in my section. He asked which schools I applied to, and I told him that I hadn’t applied to any because I didn’t have my teaching certificate in hand. He smiled kindly at me and told me that it didn’t matter; the district would just call the department of education to verify that I was certified. By that point, however, school was about to start, and all the districts had already filled their positions.
He told me that he knew of a part-time position teaching social studies in the evenings at an alternative high school in his district. If I was interested in the position, he would put in a good word for me since the principal was his former assistant principal. Naturally, I jumped at the opportunity although teaching English was what I was really hoping for down the road.
When I interviewed with the principal, he asked me a question I wasn’t expecting.
“Do you want your students to like you?”
I stammered and stumbled, my brain going a million miles an hour. How in the hell was I supposed to answer that? Being friends with students was wrong. But everyone wants to be liked. He smiled at me, and asked, “It’s a tricky question, isn’t it?” Then he gave me the best piece of advice I have ever received about kids. “The answer is yes. You want them to like you. It’s natural to want to be liked. But students who like you will work harder for you. They will come to you for questions. They will trust you as their teacher and their mentor.” And he was so incredibly right.
How This Has Worked for Me
Over the years, I have worked hard to get students to like me. I try to be honest and straightforward. It doesn’t work every year with every student, but it’s worth it when the kids do like me. They honestly tell me what happened with their homework. We are able to problem solve because they will come to me when they don’t understand something. They are young adults who are able to have frank conversations that we wouldn’t be able to have if they didn’t like me and trust me. No, we’re not friends; I’m a mentor with their best interests in mind.
Give it a try. You’ll find that kids respond to you more when they like you, not just because you’re the teacher, the authority figure, in the room. You’ll be able to develop a real connection. Maybe a couple years after graduation you can even become Facebook friends!
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