This article was written by Adam Hatch - UC Berkeley graduate, son of a teacher, brother of a teacher, and a teacher himself. Adam started a unique English school in Taipei, Taiwan, where kids learn to research and write articles in English. The articles are published on the first ever English newspaper written by kids in Taiwan, called the Taipei Teen Tribune.
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*This article was written by a guest author. It has not been vetted or endorsed by Bored Teachers' editorial staff.*
Here is a tale of two teachers: the favorite teacher and the best teacher.
In rare instances they can be the same, but not often. Many students confuse their favorite with the best, but that’s a common misconception. Hear me out: as a teacher, you shouldn’t try to be the favorite.
My favorite teacher was not the best teacher. She was a wonderful person - empathetic, helpful, patient, and she made class a comfortable and fun place to be. However, in her pursuit of having an accommodating classroom and a good relationship with all of her students, she also sacrificed authority and a certain degree of respect.
On the other hand, my best teacher wasn’t my favorite. I didn’t always like her class and sometimes I found the work and her teaching downright boring. And while she was perfectly nice, especially one-on-one, she held firm authority in her classroom and simply didn’t get as close to her students as some other teachers did.
But do you know what she did do? She made us work, and work hard. I realized after I graduated that I learned more in her class than any other course I had taken up to that point. And part of the reason was because she resisted trying to be everyone’s favorite and strove instead to be the best.
Why does it have to be this way? The problem is, favorite teachers, at least most of the time, try to be too much of a “friend” to their students, and students are easily tempted into taking advantage of this relationship. Students don’t mean to, but when they are confident a teacher is going to be “cool” with them being late to class, for example, eventually they try to cash in on the supposed friendship.
Even if the favorite teacher is firm and still disciplines the student, both the teacher and the student find themselves in a situation where they rather resent each other. The student feels like a “friend” has been “uncool” and the teacher feels their patience and kindness have been taken advantage of. And even worse, should the favorite teacher actually let poor behavior slide, they also begin to lose authority and consistency, thus planting the seeds for future difficulties.
The favorite teacher is often spoken highly of, especially by students. However, if you listen to what people actually say, praise for this teacher is rarely academic in nature. It’s usually about how nice they are or how cool their class is, never about how much a student has improved or how something they’d taught had deep effect. Furthermore, favorite teachers are often best with students who are going to be fine regardless of who their teacher is - this kind of instructor rarely is able accomplish the herculean task of getting unengaged students to focus and improve.
So how do you avoid falling into this trap, but still foster meaningful relationships with students? Teachers need to remember: you aren’t there to be your students’ friend. The point isn’t to be everyone’s buddy, the point is to motivate and galvanize. Your job is to be a role model and to engage your pupils’ intellects. Education is a highly social dynamic, and one that demands a tremendous amount of respect from students and authoritative competence from teachers. Anything less is the first step on a slippery slope to dysfunction.
Good feelings and relationships with students are important, but the best teacher instills competence and skill and realizes education is not about what the teacher can take away from his class, but rather about equipping students with the tools they need to succeed in life. And this usually means forgetting about being popular and focusing the fundamentals of your craft.
In other words, don’t worry about being the favorite - try to be the most respected. Be the teacher that parents want their students to have because they’ve heard how much you can get students to accomplish. Simply put, strive to be the best.