I recently started thinking about whether it’s important and/or necessary for our students to like us. Looking back at my own learning experiences – from primary through secondary and university, countless training courses, the CELTA, language courses and teacher development sessions – at each point along the way it was clear that I enjoyed a subject more if I liked and respected the teacher. And, of course, the more I enjoyed a subject, the more work and effort I was willing to put in to learning.
So for the student I think few would disagree that liking one’s teacher creates a more positive (and therefore effective) learning environment. But I think it’s important for us as teachers too. Aside from the fact that most of us like to be liked, I think the probability of teaching well and delivering a good lesson is increased if the atmosphere is comfortable. If our students are enjoying a lesson we’re more likely to enjoy it too – positivity breeds positivity.
We all have bad days, and I think there’s no shame in our students knowing that. Teacher is not a role I play, teaching is something I do. It’s not about everyone being the best of friends though – some of my finest lessons have been with groups who have a more challenging dynamic – it’s about creating the environment in which our students can feel comfortable. It’s ok not to love every activity, but it’s good to be able to see, or at least trust, that there will be some benefit. Showing our students that we feel comfortable not only puts them at ease, but often us too.
Before I worked in EFL I trained and worked as an actress. Much of my work involved writing and devising my own shows and over time I learnt that one of my strengths as a performer lies in building a rapport with my audience.
Of course this has carried over into the classroom and I’m not shy about showing my human side. I think this quality really helps to build a positive dynamic with ones students. After all, every one of us has our eccentricities and weaknesses and it’s the people who pretend that they don’t who we take longer to warm to.
Part of my CELTA course involved analysing my own teaching practice and during this process one of the points that arose was that I wasn’t smiling very much, perhaps because I was nervous and taking it all so seriously! It was given as a small point during feedback – but for me it was huge! Who wants a teacher who never smiles?! So for every remaining teaching practice I made a point of putting a sign on the wall in the classroom reminding me to smile. Of course I’m far more relaxed in the classroom now and smile without having to think about it. But there are occasions in which we might not feel like smiling – we’re tired, a student is struggling and taking a long time – but a smile is so encouraging for a student, especially at these moments. Obviously rapport is about more than just smiling – if we’re too smiley we risk looking a little unbalanced – but it certainly helps.
So back to my original question – is it important for our students to like us? Yes, absolutely. Is it necessary? I don’t know. I’ve yet to see a teacher who’s good and unlikeable.