Cult of Pedagogy Search

Why Teaching is Like Dating

Close

Can't find what you are looking for? Contact Us

 

It’s always a little awkward when you compare teaching and dating.  People start to fidget and offer an uncomfortable courtesy laugh. But teachers, bear with me, and try not to spill your Folgers.

I noticed this parallel last year, when one of my favorite students in the world came to me when my room was empty. It was one of those rare, silent times in a day.

“Boll, I need to ask you a question.”

“What’s up, man? Shoot.”

He stuttered in a way that that was slightly more uncomfortable than usual for him, so I knew he wasn’t asking me about an essay or an assignment.

“Well, it’s more that I need advice.”

I prodded a bit more as he fumbled through his words before he finally got out his request.

“I need some advice on how to get girls to like me. Can you help with that?”

Obviously, this student needed more help than I thought. Not only did he not know how to talk to a girl he liked, but he also thought this awkward 34-year-old white guy who tries to teach English in his neighborhood high school was a good place to start. I was never very smooth with the ladies, but I was honored by his bad judgement.

I told the kid that I thought he was super cool. But he was more the kind of cool that was going to crush his 30s. The kind of cool that would win grad school. Sweater vests, ties with jeans, and conversations about climate change are the kind of thing that coffee dates and wine parties are made of, but they might leave him hanging in high school. He was a hopeless romantic in a Snapchat world.

And I had some 34-year-old advice. I told him that every person I ever met likes to talk about themselves. So if you are talking to a girl you like, try to ask a lot of questions and let her talk a lot. If you are interested, let her know and ask more questions. I couldn’t promise he would magically be the most popular kid in school, but I could promise people would like being around him.

Generally—and this is not only true about romance—people are drawn to people who are more interested in others than themselves.

In this vein, I think teachers need to be better daters. Our students should like to be around us most of the time. The advice I gave the sweater vest kid is really the same advice I would give to any new teacher trying to find their way in this job: We should ask a lot of questions and listen a lot. We should want our students to like us, but not because we awkwardly talk about rap music and basketball. Our students should like us because we seem genuinely interested in their lives, their interests, and their frustrations.

Teachers, like any other segment of society, can be inclined toward bad judgments and associations. We tend to assume that the “cool teacher” means that teacher’s class must be really easy. It comes with a certain dress code, style, and dialect that students find relevant. People say things like “I don’t need my students to like me” in the teachers’ lounge and that seems to earn them a badge of honor. It’s like we’ve been trained to respect the hard ass, and judge the teacher that students actually enjoy. It makes no sense.

But I’ve seen the “cool teacher” come in all ages, shape, colors, and sizes. Their styles look more grandpa than GQ, their cultural references are usually 10 years too late, and they might be the farthest thing from smooth. Of course, I’ve also seen cool teachers that are really cool. That seem to fit the stereotype a little more closely, but have classes that students say is the hardest in the school.

Regardless of their style, students consistently say the same things about teachers they like: They care about what I’m saying, they ask questions, they seem to enjoy their job, and they don’t judge me based on what they see or hear. It doesn’t matter if they listen to the same music, or watch sports, or look like a model. It just matters that they listen to their students and ask questions about their lives.

I realize this might sound sappy, but my advice for teachers is to try to get students to like you. Not because you want to be the cool teacher, but because you want your students to learn. They are way more likely to really learn from someone that they like. And from someone that they think likes them.

Teachers, put on your outfits that were only stylish 15 years ago. Your loose-fitting JC Penney khakis, that new dress shirt you got at Kohl’s, and those athletic socks with brown leather shoes. Share your love of those awful moisture-wicking polo shirts with your school name emblazoned on the chest. Slide your feet into your favorite clogs that you always claim have great orthotic support. Then, walk into the classroom with a confidence in knowing that your success isn’t based on your hipster haircut or your perfectly-fitted skinny jeans. Look your students in their eyes and ask them how they are doing.

Then, listen. You’ll be amazed at what happens. ♦

 

There’s more where this came from.
Join our mailing list and get weekly tips, tools, and inspiration—in quick, bite-sized packages—all geared toward making your teaching more effective and fun. You’ll get access to our members-only library of free downloads, including 20 Ways to Cut Your Grading Time in Half the e-booklet that has helped thousands of teachers save time on grading. Come on in!!

 

13 Comments

  1. Katarína says:

    Motivating, fascinating, true…thanks for writing and sharing it☺☺☺

    • Thanks so much for reading! I kind of have to write stuff like this to remind myself.

  2. Natasha says:

    Love this! So very true – the “I don’t need my students to like me” badge of honour needs to be retired!

  3. You hooked me with the line about rap music and basketball (I have done both this past semester). I agree with you; it seems that teachers have a disconnect when discoursing with students. A lot of times it seems that they just want someone to listen to them or be interested in their lives but it seems most teachers shut them out. I was subbing the other day for a class and had what everyone considers the worst kid in school in my room for the first time. I just started asking him questions about his life etc and answering his questions as honestly as I could. I called him on his actions a couple of times and he settled in and didn’t cause me any problems after that. I’ve had kids tell me, “all the teachers say we are the bad ones,” etc. and they come in expecting me to be on that page. It takes them time to realize that I make my own opinions and actually care what they have going on in their lives. I hope this doesn’t wear off as I progress through my teaching career, but I was telling my wife last night that I really think a lot of the apathy issue in my school is due to teachers not treating the students as individuals and respecting what they have to say. It is almost like the kids don’t care what the teachers have to say because the teachers don’t care what the kids have to say… I’m trying to break the cycle.

    • Right! There are many complicated things about teaching. But I also think we tend to over-complicate the simple things. You are right. Ask a few questions, show some interest, learn something that you will remember the next time you talk. That stuff matters. Keep that. And keep talking about it.

    • Derek Long says:

      This is an amazing insight. It makes me sick to my stomach to hear people talking about the “bad kids” or “those kids” at our school. They are all just kids. Some have different issues, but we need to treat our students like we want our own children’s teachers treating our own kids.

  4. Danna says:

    I really agree with everything you say. The problem is, we teachers, especially elementary teachers who have to teach 9 different subjects are so fixated on time! How do we teach everything we need to in a 7 hour day and still have time to actually TALK to kids??

    • Ahhh! Time!!!! True. There is really none of it. The truth is, I let people down sometimes. I have 100-something students, and I can’t be everything to everybody. Teacher, listener, data-extraordinaire, professional… etc. Keep up the good fight. And let me know if you figure it out.

    • Caroline says:

      Sigh. The reality of the classroom. Gets me every time.

  5. MiddleSchoolistheish says:

    My problem is that as a 50 year old newish teacher I have my own children who have taught me everything about the culture of the youth. My oldest son is in middle school now and I have heard the music and seen the fads (fidget spinners, rubiks cubes, sneakers,anime etc) My youngest is still in elementary school and I learn about bullies, fidget spinners, mobile gaming and basketball jones).

    When I go to school I find myself laughing at some of the stuff the kids do and say. And since I usually start the school year in October, it takes a while for the kids to warm up to me. Despite my graying unstyled hair, birkenstocks, and bland cover all attire, my kids (students) have grown to love me and me them! Other teachers are angrily yelling at them and whispering what a horrible child some of them are. Yes, they are horrible when they are cutting those classes to try to sit in mine!

    My kids are the underdog and I look at their potential rather than their deficits (I was an underdog too).

    Unfortunately, other teachers have told me that my openness to the kids who sit in the back of the class and have bad grades would bite me in the end.

    Another thing I read is that the best place to put funds and efforts to raise test scores is in the children at the higher end of the grades.

    It makes me want to cry! I feel the underdog can be motivated to succeed and it takes pulling them into the fray! And, as you said, asking the questions (some of the hard) and listening and then encouraging or finding out where the deficits are. Helping move toward wholeness.

  6. Tori says:

    As a new teacher that “keeps it cool”, I can honestly say this is what all teachers need to hear, not just old or new. Yes, we have to hone in on those standards, academic rigor, etc., but we also need to treat our students like actual humans and show that we care. Maybe it’s because I work at elementary grade level that this is more natural or prone to occur, but making those personal connections with your students creates such a classroom bond and trust between you and the students. Totally worth the time and effort!

  7. Sadiq Ibrahim says:

    I tend to agree with all the earlier comments, I only want to add that there are no bad children from God, rather what we have is bad teachers, bad adults, bad mentors, or even bad parents who do not give the right kind of education, mentorship and good parental care and up bringing. As teachers we have more work to do as agent of change to make these children better citizens.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.