To Teachers This May Concern,
Pardon my candor, but there’s a reason why the kids just don’t like you. At first, I couldn’t understand the dynamics of certain teachers and classes, especially if they stick together and bond for a few months. The general theory states that a good teacher is a good teacher irrespective of who’s in front of them. If they have high-level students, then they get them to achieve at very high levels, accentuating their prior knowledge and advancing them. If they’re considered low-level students, then they make the adjustments, modifying their lesson plans and assessments accordingly.
But that’s not how it goes. Attitudes matter. Perceptions matter. Thusly, if kids don’t like you, it doesn’t matter what you throw at them or how highly lauded you are by your administrators, you can still suck. You can have all the aesthetics in the world, and talk a great game, but if the kids don’t like you, you’re toast. You might come to me thinking you’re the greatest teacher ever because your bosses are satisfied with you and think you’re pretty / handsome, but if the kids don’t like you, then you’re done.
I’ve been on the receiving end of the dislike, too, and for an entire year, it felt terrible on both ends. Unlike some of you, though, I reflected hard on some of the things that caused that to happen, and asked others for help in my quest to improve my practice. You don’t. Even after some of you left, you still act your marble pedestal is reserved for you. And I’m just the man to knock it down.
5. You never give yourself the chance to talk to the kids.
You’re good for screaming constantly, instructing constantly, pushing your subject constantly. And you never give a hint that you’re actually going to ask them how their day is going. When they don’t respond how you’d like, you take it personally. And you never actually ask them about anything they like, or pull one of them to the side and ask if the speed of the class is fine. Little things go a long way, and it helps you keep yourself in check, too.
4. You make no effort to understand them.
Our mission as teachers isn’t to mold them into the children we want them to be, but to give them the tools by which to understand their world better. They sound the same, but the person in the driver seat is different. Plus, you think their mannerisms are uncouth even when you were doing some rather unsavory things just the week before in your own time. Nice going.
3. You never make an effort to push them.
Believe it or not, they actually want you to push them academically. You saw the bad kid walking down the hallway and making a ruckus in your classroom and you didn’t even try to ask him what he needed to get his act together. Sometimes, this works, so when it does, you’ll forever have that kid at your side. If it doesn’t, at least you tried, and you’ll still get the respect in the class for trying. I promise.
2. You can go from hard to soft, but never the other way around.
This was a particular fault of mine, so I’m talking to a past Mr. Vilson, too. If you’re very strict in the beginning, and ease up a little bit, then when you need to be firm, the kids will understand. If you’re soft in the beginning and try to tighten up the class later, they’ll resent you for it. Even if you’re successful, you’ll still get tons more resistance than if you just started with the initial structure.
1. You don’t even pretend to care.
None of the above matters so much less when you don’t even pretend to care. That’s why the class doesn’t even pretend to care about you. Even in what I consider my worst class, I had students on both ends of the behavior spectrum who liked me because I cared. Sometimes, it’s as simple as acting like you care that decides whether you’re going to get the best out of a class or not.
Caring takes on many different shapes, but the kids sense it. It’s akin to how dogs, not knowing a word you’re saying in English, consider you a threat or a friend. As adults, we’ve learned how to filter our “gut instinct” with adult things like second impressions and empathy. Kids don’t have that filter, so when you give off a certain type of energy, even when you look like the meanest jerk this side of the country, you’ll still get the right reaction.
Because, really, we can say all we want that we don’t care if the kids like us or not, but 180 days is miserable if the environment isn’t conducive to real learning on both ends. You don’t have to be Superman or anyone else in the Justice League (though if one of you even tries to lay claim to Batman, you’re going down). You just have to deliver the best instruction possible, and a huge part of that is providing a great environment for them.
Otherwise, you now know why the kids don’t like you. It was never about your race, color, privilege, manner of speaking (per se), sex, geographical background, or the position of your nose as you passed by them. It was just you.
Jose, who’s definitely talking about you …