Because You Like Me…

By October 11, 2016 Uncategorized 4 Comments

If you were a new teacher interviewing for a teaching position, how would you respond to the following question?

“Is it important to you for your students to LIKE you?”

Speaking as someone who has asked this question to hundreds of teacher applicants over the years, the manner in which a teacher answered this question gave me valuable insight as to the way this person would relate and interact with the children in his or her classroom. In short, how they answered this simple question was a big deal to me.

In a widely-viewed 2013 TED talk, “Every Kid Needs a Champion,” educator Rita Pearson relates a story about overhearing a colleague making this comment: “They don’t pay me to like the kids. They pay me to teach a lesson. The kids should learn it. I should teach it. They should learn it. Case closed.”

Rita’s response to her colleague was direct and penetrating: “Kids don’t learn from teachers they don’t like.”

A teacher I interviewed a few years ago gave a similar response when I asked my question. The person replied that he didn’t care if students hated him so long as they did what they were told. He said he didn’t need any “teenage friends.” It was his job to teach and theirs to learn.

Do you wonder if he got the job?

Here’s a clue.


I get that we want our students to respect us and treat us as professionals. Yet, we must always recognize that respect is a two-way street, even when we are talking about children.

Respect is also much more than consistent compliance with rules and procedures. Respect is a feeling of deep admiration for someone or something elicited by their abilities, qualities, or achievements. It involves genuinely liking someone.

Compliance is easy; respect takes time and effort.

A few week’s ago, I stumbled on a blog written by Allison Riddle for Education Week. In her post, Allison used the activity of running as a simile to discuss the challenge of teaching defiant students:

Working with defiant students can be a difficult run. Not every day is hard, but some can be incredibly rough. I struggle to remain consistent, calm and confident when a student escalates the defiant behavior and tests me in front of other students. By the end of the day, I sometimes feel worn out and discouraged. But the following days often do run smoother, somehow. Maybe the student has learned I will follow through, or maybe I carry myself with greater confidence for having made it through the struggle. By midyear, my ‘runs’ with a student often diminish and I notice we are beginning to build a trusting relationship.

As a runner myself, I found Allison’s comparison to be apt.

Allison said something else that resonated with me – that her hardest students made her a stronger, more effective teacher.

A few years ago I had that student, the one who tested my limits and made me better. Fifth graders, generally excited about school, usually begin the year with wide, curious eyes and a yearning to learn something new. But this young lady, who I will call Stephanie, walked in carrying some very heavy baggage and a serious attitude problem. She and I made it through a very difficult year, sometimes feeling like we were tested in the fire. Over the year her behavior did improve, though at times it seemed like I handed out consequences to Stephanie as if they were Skittles. I was so surprised when she showed up to the last day of school, walking into our room with a huge smile and an attitude of gratitude. “Mrs. Riddle, my mom said I didn’t have to come to school today because report cards are done,” Stephanie said. “But I told her I wanted to come . . . because you like me.”

Because I like her. Students usually tell me how much they like mebut this girl came on the last day because I liked her.

So, in retrospect, maybe I have been asking the wrong question for all these years.

The better question may be: “Is it important for YOU to like your students?”

My answer to this set of questions would go something like this:

Of course, it is vitally important that my students like me. As a general rule, people tend to perform at a higher level for people they admire, trust, respect, and like. If students like me, they will be more engaged and comfortable in my classroom. They will experience less stress and anxiety. But, more important than students liking me is that my students are thoroughly convinced that I like them. They should know that I respect and value them for who they are. That I will never do anything to denigrate or humiliate them. That I will treat them with courtesy and compassion at all times. That I will simultaneously be tough and hold them to high standards. Because this is the way people who like each other treat each other.

In today’s chaotic and often unseemly world, we must all remember the tenet that children are great imitators. Regrettably, too much of what they’re exposed to today is not worth imitating.

Therefore, as educators, it is critically important that WE always give them something worth emulating.

That starts and ends with a friendly smile, a kind word, a gentle touch, and an ample dose of human compassion.

Because they need to know we like them … and we need to know they like us.

This is the foundation upon which real teaching and learning begins.

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