“I’m not here to be liked.”
This is a refrain that can be heard in classrooms across the nation. Usually right after a student says something along the lines of “I hate you” or “That’s why nobody likes you.”
There are of course multiple variations of this refrain, too. The “I don’t need to be popular.” The “I’m not supposed to be your friend.” And my personal favorite, the “they don’t pay me to be liked.”
It doesn’t matter how you say it; they all equate to the same meaning: Teachers don’t need to be liked, and they don’t care if they are.
However, I am here to tell you today that sentiment is wrong. Teachers do need to be liked and almost all of them want to be.
Don’t misunderstand. It is possible to be a teacher and be disliked. In some environments, you can even be an effective teacher and be disliked, but I have never seen a disliked teacher be successful at my school. I can attest to this firsthand because I tried. During my first year, I came in I barked orders. I gave demands and paid no mind to how I was perceived by the students. It suffices to say that this course of action didn’t work. Students were generally compliant but not hard working. Every day one or two students per class would blow up at me because they couldn’t stand my style. It didn’t bother me that much. I wasn’t losing sleep over being the school’s least favorite teacher… but I WAS losing sleep following up with referrals, creating new seating charts, and planning lessons around behavior.
I wasn’t particularly bothered. I was able to have class and sometimes learning was even occurring, but the environment was miserable. Moreover, I certainly wasn’t getting the Joe Clark, Lean on Me experience I was promised by Teach for America.
So, I tried something new. I emulated the successful teachers in my school and took a page out of their book. I tried being positive, building relationships, even having fun. These actions did, indeed, actually work. My 6th graders during my second year enjoyed my class and me as a teacher. (The 7th graders that I had taught in 6th the year before couldn’t believe it.) The “new me” didn’t cure all ills. I still needed to improve my instruction and behavior wasn’t perfect as I had to learn how to deal with students I had just previously removed…but overall the classroom environment was way stronger.
Being well-liked isn’t a panacea. It’s hard to be disliked and be effective, but it is surprisingly easy to be liked and ineffective. You don’t want to fall in the trap of trying to be their friend and being taken advantage of. Still, the age-old saying rings true: “Students don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.”
So yes, I do want students to like me. It’s just common sense. It makes my job way easier. I may put off a hard-ass persona…but at the end of the day, it’s better to be liked than hated. I should know; I’ve tried both.