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Julia Thompson teaches English in Fairfax County, Virginia as well as being an active speaker and consultant. She is also the author of several books for teachers: Discipline Survival Guide for the Secondary Teacher, The First-Year Teacher’s Survival Guide, The First-Year Teacher’s Checklist, and The First-Year Teachers’ Survival Guide Professional Development Kit (a DVD series) In addition, Julia maintains a Web site for educators: www.juliagthompson.com, a blog at juliagthompson.blogspot.com, and offers advice on Twitter at http://twitter.com/TeacherAdvice.
HOW TO BE A POPULAR TEACHER—FOR ALL THE RIGHT REASONS
One of the trickiest questions that many teacher candidates are asked during a job interview is this one, “What is more important—that you students like you or that they respect you?” Of course, the implication in this question is that the two are somehow mutually exclusive. No way.
Experienced teachers know that their classrooms run much more smoothly when connections with their students are positive, friendly, and supportive. They know that mutual respect and caring are key elements in a productive classroom environment.
However, it is not always easy to know if our relationships with students are as solid as we would want them to be. Just how acceptable is it to be a popular teacher? Rest assured that it is okay to be a popular teacher as long as your popularity is based on appropriate professional behavior and a steadfast concern for the well-being of your students.
Striving to become a teacher who is popular for all of the right reasons is a worthwhile endeavor, and one that is pretty easy to achieve if you take the time to think through your role as a classroom teacher. Here is a list of some very simple ideas that may make it easier for you to achieve this goal. Some may seem obvious to you, but are ones that busy and stressed out teachers tend to overlook in the rush of a busy school day.
- When a student speaks to you, stop what you are doing and listen to what your student is saying.
- Make it clear that you enjoy being with students and that you appreciate them for who they are.
- Be loud and clear that it’s your goal to enable students to achieve their dreams.
- Take the time to get to know your students as people. Take notice of the special things that make each one unique.
- Use a kind voice when speaking with them. Never misuse your adult power to be sarcastic or rude.
- Set up your classroom where you can walk around to every desk and talk with every student one-on-one.
- Use humor. Laugh when funny things happen in your class. Shared laughter creates strong bonds and reveals your humanity.
- Show your appreciation for the good things your students do. Celebrate the little things.
- Stress that you won’t give up on your students.
- Allow your students to get to know you. They need to see your human side. Focus on them, but judiciously reveal things about yourself that will allow them to see you as a person.
- Agree with them as often as you can. This validates their self-worth and moves them toward self-discipline.
- When there is a problem, don’t automatically assume a student is at fault. Listen to your students as they tell their version of events before passing judgment.
- Move your desk to the back of the classroom if you can. This small action signals a student-centered attitude on your part.
- Let the families of your students know when good things happen in class.
- Use positive but sincere language with your students. Don’t flatter, and be careful not to appear overly negative or critical.
- Create opportunities for success every day. Make success challenging, but attainable. Encourage a “can-do” attitude.
- Recognize effort as well as achievement.
- Speak to every student each day. Don’t allow students to be invisible in your classroom.
- Make pens, paper, and extra books available when students need a loan.
- Set aside time when you can provide extra help for those students who need it.
- Offer small perks whenever you can. For example, two minutes of a silly video at the end of class can make it possible for everyone to leave your room in an upbeat mood.
- Be sincere, generous, frequent, and tactful in your praise.
Keep students busily involved in interesting work. When their work is interesting, relevant, purposeful, and meaningful, you show your students that you value their time and effort.
- Be a well-prepared and well-organized teacher who takes your class responsibilities seriously.
- Contact their parents or guardians when your students are absent more than one day to see what’s wrong.
- Set limits for your students. They need a comfortable framework of boundaries in which to operate.
- Talk with students when you notice a change in their behavior or attitude. If a normally cheerful student, for example, seems distracted or upset, there’s a good reason for the change.
- When students confide in you, follow up. Ask about how they did on the history test that was troubling them or check to see if their grades have improved in math class.
- Focus on students’ strong points, not on their weaknesses.
- Don’t ever forget what it was like to be their age—be take care not to start sentences with, “When I was your age…”
- Work to prevent or minimize misbehavior so that your relationships can be friendly instead of adversarial.
- Don’t ever forget that your relationship with your most difficult students will set the tone for your relationships with everyone in your class.
- Tell your students that you like them. Take a few moments after a long week to recount all the good things they have done. This simple action will increase the likelihood of having another good week.
- Attend school events. If your students are playing in a football game or performing in a band concert, go to show your approval and appreciation for their hard work.
- If a student is featured in the newspaper for something good, clip out the article and post it for everyone to see.
- Use this simple sentence, “What can I do to help you?”—to project a caring attitude.