Thursday, November 4, 2010

I'm Not Here to Be Your Friend

I don't know how many times I've said these words to my students. This is one area where teaching and parenting really overlap. Teaching and parenting are not about developing friendships with those for whom you are responsible. Teaching and parenting are about developing little human beings into functioning, successful members of society.

Students and children can get confused about what's best for them. That's why they're minors. If they knew exactly what was best for them, they wouldn't need teachers or parents. If given the choice, most students would pick the nice teacher who lets them get away with anything. Why? Because they're friends! If I let my kids text all day, listen to their mp3 players and gave them an A regardless of what work they produced, I'm sure they'd tell you I was the best teacher they ever had. They'd be wrong of course and it would show when it came time for them to take the state assessment. It would show later in their lives when they don't want to do work at their jobs. It would show when they are missing vital skills that would help them in their lives.

Students want you to be the "cool" teacher who lets them do anything and teaches nothing. They want to have fun. They need to learn. Now, fun and learning are not mutually exclusive. However, I'm not a stand up comedian. I'm paid to teach, not to entertain.

Regardless of what students tell you that they want, it's the strict, caring teachers that make the have the most impact on learning. There's a delicate balance between Demon Teacher from the Ninth Circle of Hell and Let's Watch Movies and Gossip Y'all. That balance is respect. The respect must be mutual, of course. If you're choosing to let your students have free rein, you are not respecting them. Respecting students means setting real, achievable expectations and not treating them like they are too stupid or ill mannered to have proper classroom rules.

As a teacher, sometimes you might crave to have your students like you. And they can! You'd even be surprised that engaging and challenging lessons can earn you the label of "cool teacher". The trick is to make sure you are earning it by teaching them rather than coddling them.

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