“Don’t smile till Christmas,” they say. Because, certainly, the only way students will respect you is if they fear you, right?
For several years, I have lived with this idea that students need to fear you. For several years, I have chided myself for being too soft. It sounded like:
“I should’ve made that student sign out before they left to the bathroom. My whole bathroom procedure is going to crumble!”
“We lost a minute of instruction because they were turning their papers in slowly!”
“I should’ve taken that student’s phone! They aren’t going to respect my cell phone policy because I saw it and didn’t take it!”
“I didn’t reprimand those students for talking during the warm-up!”
“Other teachers yell at their kids for this, but I don’t. It’s because I am too weak.”
These judgments left me feeling defeated and exhausted.
So, I let my bathroom procedure slip a little. So, I don’t freak out on a student for having their phone. So, I give them some time to chat during transitions. Well… here are the real consequences that I have suffered for being a big ol’ softy.
Just over the last two weeks, I have had 5 separate students confide some very personal information about their families, their breakup, tough decisions they are making in their life.
Instead of freaking out on a student for talking to her classmate and being on her phone, I asked her, in a genuine way, “Is there some kind of emergency going on in which you need your phone?” As it turned out, there was a big event happening in her life that she then shared with me. She opened up to me in a way that would not have happened if I had taken her phone.
It is my job to model life skills like empathy. I must lead by example. When I show my students empathy, they return it to me and to their classmates. They also learn that teachers are just people, doing the best that they can.
If a student is suffering a breakup, I am am going to show them I understand, and allow them to take it a little easier that day. If a student forgot a pencil, I will give them one. If I am feeling sick that day, students will ask other students to quiet down and do their work.
As I provide quality lessons and as I interact with students in a calm, consistent, interested way, I earn their respect. I do not demand it.
– Students show respect for class time. They kindly wait for a break in the class and ask if they can go to the bathroom, “rápidamente“.
– If they are talking while I’m talking and I playfully say págame (a system in which they now owe me points), they say “¡Lo siento, Profe!” and recommit to engaging in the class.
– Students have no need to be defiant. I’m not putting a rule out there that is just waiting to be broken. I work with students one on one to solve their problems. I redirect them privately and praise them publicly.
I teach Spanish. Communication and interpersonal relationships are the cornerstone of my teaching methods. My worst nightmare is a silent classroom. I must foster a safe place where conversation is not only allowed, but rewarded.
I also take time to give students breaks, knowing that it recharges them for learning. I used to fear administration walking into my classroom during a break, but I don’t anymore. Expecting 12-year-olds to learn for 90 minutes straight is, to put it nicely, unrealistic.
Students are a little looser in my class. We laugh at potty humor. We laugh at creating a character named “Notebook.” We ask each other about our lives. We enjoy each others’ company.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s not enough to be just nice. Being soft only works in tandem with clear structure. I do take time to train my students on procedures and I do uphold them. I do have high expectations in my class. Students are comfortable with the structure and the rules. They know how to contribute and what is expected.
But I also afford myself and my students some leniency. And instead of feeling guilty, I’m embracing it. I don’t want students to fear me. And I’m done judging myself for being too soft. Being soft is just who I am. It’s not a weakness. It’s my style of teaching. It works for me.
See also, my post on Love & Logic, which has given me the freedom to share control in the class and manage the classroom in a truly loving way.