A friend mine just couldn’t seem to find a great school, and always lamented how much she hated the popular teachers that made her look bad. Reading her Facebook status updates was interesting kind of like watching a train wreck is interesting. Needless to say, her philosophy was “I don’t care if I am popular! I am not here to be liked!”
Then something changed. She got a new job, which was a much better fit. Suddenly she was the popular teacher, and her whole philosophy changed. Now she takes an interest in the kids and goes to sports games she otherwise would have skipped as “non-academic.” She also finds herself standing up for students when they have problems as opposed to dismissing them. She loves her job now. It’s an amazing change. Now she loves and values her popularity among the students and parents. She is popular and liked (even loved dare I say).
I agree that it is important to be your excellent, detached, and funny self, regardless of whether every student likes you. I get that. I teach to every student I have, which probably means some won’t like me as much as others. Most do as far as I can tell. Nonetheless, I am going to do the best for my students, which sometimes may mean enforcing boundaries they may not want enforced. Teachers have difficult decisions to make at times, and sometimes the right decision is not the popular one. Nonetheless, I do find if I make a difficult decision in the right way (more on this in a future post), with trust, respect and empathy, they still like me afterwards, sometimes even more. So, I am not saying you should always do what a student wants, but I am saying that you should care about being liked.
I think “I am not here to be liked” is a ridiculous philosophy. Would we adults want to work for somebody who doesn’t give any thought to our feelings or concerns? Would we want to go to a conference run by people who don’t care if we like them or not? Do you like it when your spouse or friends express how they don’t care if you like them or not.
Besides, what business would last five minutes if they dismissed their clients in such a way? We gladly criticize companies that make harsh decisions that are unpopular among their clients and employees because they don’t care if they are liked, yet we uncritically take this attitude into the classroom.
Also, most of the time, “I am not here to be liked” is often code for “I am not liked, so I might as well pretend it doesn’t matter to me.” Clearly if someone is always announcing they don’t care about popularity, it probably stands to reason they care quite a bit about it.
The bad news is that an attitude like that is just going to make you liked even less. It will probably make students rebel even more, and “check out” mentally when they enter your classroom. The good news is that there are skills you can learn to become more well-liked, and thus, more relevant to the kids you teach (and more well-liked by parents, which will greatly reduce the likelihood they will attack you). This project, The Popular Teacher, is all about learning these skills.