TEACHER OR BUDDY?
Being a teacher is in some ways less stressful than being a parent (you don’t have to feel responsible for every aspect of your students’ lives, be available to them 24/7, or worry about juggling time with them vs. time for your career). In some ways it’s more stressful (you have to deal with more kids at a time, more unknown factors, and more expectations from more directions). And in many areas (pressure to perform, unpredictable child behavior, feeling undervalued and undercompensated), the stresses are comparable.
One common dilemma most teachers can groan at as loudly as most parents: how do you serve the same children as supervisor, mentor, cheerleader, and friend—while simultaneously maximizing your effectiveness in all these areas and (hopefully) minimizing criticism from other adults?
The days are long past when teachers could enforce “behave yourself or you get the business end of the paddle.” Not that anyone should want to revive that approach, but at least it came with clear expectations and was accepted by parents and principals. Today, most teachers are pulled in all directions by administrative pressure to make students excel; parents’ demands that their own children’s needs be respected; and personal fears of either losing their students’ respect or damaging any child’s potential and self-esteem.
Small wonder that so many teachers slip unhealthily to one end of the “authoritarian–laissez-faire” spectrum—and so many students feel constantly “picked on” by their teachers or by insensitive and unrestrained classmates.
Staying on healthy middle ground takes some work, but is worth the effort. Here are a few Do’s and Don’ts for achieving that goal.
- DO make a point of understanding individual personalities and needs: where one student is flattered to be called on, a shyer student may feel put on the spot and set up for humiliation. (It should go without saying, but no good comes of publicly calling on someone who is obviously desperate to avoid the possibility. Find other ways to encourage their participation.)
- DO be consistent. If there’s anything more toxic to class effectiveness than a teacher who plays dictator or one who lets everyone get away with everything—it’s a teacher who vacillates between cracking down on and ignoring the same behavior, leaving students constantly on edge from wondering what to expect.
- DO know your own personality as well as your students’. You’ll be most effective when committed to an approach that balances firmness and kindness within your best personal style.
- DON’T confuse being supportive with playing the easygoing “buddy.” Certainly you should appreciate, respect, and even learn from your students—but when it comes down to final decisions, the ultimate authority is still yours, and the kids will actually feel more secure for knowing that. (Whatever impressions they may give, children really don’t feel ready to take full charge of their own lives.)
- DON’T obsess over whether students (or their parents, or your supervisors) “respect” or “like” you. Concentrate on being (and liking) your own best self, and you’ll automatically attract positive feelings from most people and respect from everyone.