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Thursday, February 18, 2010


"I wouldn't even go to class if I had another teacher. I just come because you're awesome."

KQ likes me because I like gaming, and I'll talk about it with him for a minute before the bell rings, and I refer to people as noobs and things as epic and items as loot, and that's a language he not only understands but viscerally appreciates.

But it makes me wonder. KQ is getting A's in Trig because he likes me, so he'll make an effort. He didn't do very well in math last year, nor the year before. He's not exactly a model student. I believe him when he says he wouldn't do as well with a different teacher.

So if some kids are doing better because they have me, there must be some who are doing worse because they have me. And would be doing better if they had someone else. Someone who was way into SU basketball, or improvisational comedy, or spelunking.

There are teachers at my school who are universally adored - but - they are either 1. extraordinarily gifted, funny storytellers or 2. conduct easy or widely enjoyable classes*.

Is there a way for mortals to achieve that? In a discipline where we're rigidly held to account for mastery of difficult skills? Is the answer to find a basis to forge a deep affinity with all 125 of them? Or is there some other secret recipe, besides natural charm? I know it's my responsibility to foster a comfortable, cooperative learning environment, and I think I do that well. I've just never been overly worried about being well-liked.

But I would love for them all to do as well as KQ is unexpectedly doing this year.

*I'm not being negative here - just because everybody gets A's if they show up, doesn't mean it's not vitally important. And I know math can be enjoyable, but the mandates of much of our curriculum make that awfully difficult to deliver. Don't you love how I can anticipate comments and get pre-emptively defensive? Blogging hax.


  1. It's kind of a zen thing: Any teacher who is "overly worried about being well-liked"... is not.

  2. Your last couple paragraphs went somewhere completely different than I expected. Since it wouldn't occur to me to try to be universally liked, I expected you to go on to talk about matching students to the teachers that will work well for them.

  3. Oh David, sometimes I feel like you guys don't know me /at all/.

    This was a bit navel gazely for me. And way more intensely edited than my normal posts. It was about twice as longaweek ago. My rhythm is off.

  4. I'll try to remember that you have such lofty goals! I'm pretty new to this blog, but I've really enjoyed (and benefited from, I hope) your insights about teaching. Thanks!

  5. Pretty soon you'll be able to anticipate your comments so well you'll have long flamewars with yourself, finally ending in a reference to Hitler and a spam advertisement.

  6. long-time reader here-- this post drew me out from the comment shadows because it resonated so deeply with a few of my memories. demaris had always hated math and done poorly despite being really bright, and made a 54 the first quarter i taught him precalculus, but because he liked me and because i believed in him, he made a 92 second quarter. i also see some students who really thrived in my classroom (i taught the same group for two years) now really struggling with a new teacher.

    i think the biggest difference is that when kids like you, they're more willing to give you a chance when you try crazy instructional strategies-- and sometimes, it works.

  7. the ideal is of course
    unconditional love
    of all living things.
    that's way too hard
    so mostly it's well
    to change the terms:
    something like
    "love your neighbor".
    *still* too hard...
    but we can darn well
    try, in these weird
    little rooms, to love
    *these* neighbors.

    love 'em first and most of 'em
    will end up loving you back;
    my best trick (but hardly
    original with me). this means,
    as everyone knows when
    they're not at work,
    responding with signals
    of the body to signals
    of the body. smiles and
    tones of voice and so on.
    "the oral law". can't be
    taught of course but only
    learned again every day
    one broken human at a time.

    not everybody's gonna get it of course;
    some will even resent it. we'll feel like
    we've been rejected and all that; feh.
    there's always another class and sometimes
    the kids come around after a few years anyhow.

    meanwhile... one of my other best tricks...
    we've (almost) always got the dodge of
    "we can't do this very important
    emotional work right now; let's
    look at some *equations*" (or
    diagrams or proofs or what have
    you though i'll go ahead and
    mention that "equations first"
    isn't some *accident* here).

    okay. too long already.
    clumsy segue:

    "more intensely edited"
    is *not* evidence that
    your rhythm is off.
    editing isn't as much
    fun for the writer as
    just letting fly but it's
    darn well more fun for
    at least some readers
    and anyhow allows for
    different, more subtle,

    (how can i *cut*
    this well-turned phrase?
    well, it doesn't *fit*.
    well, can't i just *make* it fit?
    sure... and that'll make it
    harder to cut later...)

  8. I was thinking this morning how I sometimes have the other side of this issue that I need to fix. I have students who don't like me that shut off in my class (maybe they do in other classes as well, I don't know). And then I, in turn, don't like them because they're not even trying anymore. Thus creating a vicious cycle of issues for us both.

  9. Oh, yeah. I always have a few who make no secret of how they don't care for me at all.

    Makes it kind of hard to "just love em."

  10. @grace, welcome to the sunlight...

    i like your blog.

  11. For me it's not about "being liked" as "being respected." I could care less if they thought I was fun or cool or whatever. I don't need the affirmation of 15 year olds. But if they respect me -- because I earn their respect by being clear, consistent, and fair and by respecting them -- then I'm happy.

    Needing to be liked is for amateurs. It's nice when you're liked, sure, but needing to be liked can be detrimental. Because teachers will (and I've seen this) compromise what's best for the student and for the class because they are pandering. And they don't even realize it's happening...


  12. I think about this quite often. My eighth grade class and I have this great chemistry - in general and one-on-one. As a whole, I see their progress in leaps and I have a fantastic time nearly every time I teach.

    My seventh grade class and I have some issues, to put it bluntly. Generally, my time with them individually is productive though some of them do not hold back their opinion of me. Overall, the seventh grade has come to respect that it's okay if they don't like me, but they will still learn and get their work done. However, I worry about the classes minimal increases in knowledge, critical thinking, and grade-work. I've watched their other teacher's success with them, but cannot seem to fully recreate his "way" with the class (though, to be fair, he has trouble with the eighth grade class)

    all this reminds me daily of what an art teaching is. what a delicate balance with infinite surprises!


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