One of the stranger (and yet still common) concerns amongst student teachers and new teachers is the good old playground debate of popularity. No matter how much we deny it, all teachers secretly long for that effortless rapport, that ‘Dead Poets Society’ moment with our classes. In practice, it’s not that easy and requires one thing student teachers lack with their classes: time. However, all is not lost, and with a little effort here and there a good relationship can be established with your pupils. Advise from making you feel good, it helps with engagement, behaviour and respect.
Now, here’s all the disclaimers. This has been a weakness of mine, and certainly was at the start of my teaching career. With trickier classes during my NQT year, I devoted little to no time fostering any relationships in a constant battle to gain any sort of respect or authority. So I am no expert. However, this year I promised myself I would get this right, if nothing else. I prefaced these approaches with a no nonsense attitude to uniform, written work presentation, lateness and low level disruption. Not smiling before Christmas may be a little extreme, but establishing yourself as the authority figure reaps its own rewards in terms of respect. No student likes a pushover teacher, even the naughtier ones. Some days I feel like the most unpopular teacher ever, even if the lesson before had been awesome. Some classes don’t buy into any of these approaches either. But, overall, I feel I have a better relationship this year with my students than any previous years. That has to count for something.
The bedrock of popularity is respect. Students will respect you if you prove to them you can do your job and do it well. This means having your paperwork in order, sticking to deadlines, keeping promises and making them feel they are getting good value for their time. Setting this up at the start of the year means that if you find you need to extend a marking deadline or change something later on, they will be far more understanding as they know you are likely to have a genuine reason for doing so.
‘But students should have respect for us no matter what! Why should we work to earn it?’ That may be the case. Students may already have respect for you. They may not. But you need to work to keep it and, if you lose it, it’s going to take a LOT of work to get it back. Think of it from their point of view. If your boss demanded with respect and gave you nothing to indicate he or she should earn it, resentment will start to build. Show them you are doing your job well and they will thank you for it.
You came into this profession to spread knowledge, specifically about your subject. You are a brain evangelist and you should exault your scripture to your masses. You love your subject enough to dedicate you life to it, so show them! One of the most fun lessons I’ve taught this year had no flashy apps, no six way differentiated small groups. It was me, a whiteboard, several coloured whiteboard pens and a slightly hysterical level of enthusiasm for sentence types. Students started by listening purely because it was a little comical, but several stick men and sentence diagrams later they went away with a sense of the differences between a compound and complex sentence. More to the point, they went away knowing that I flipping love sentence construction. I may be weird to them, but enthisiasm is infectious and respect builds further when they see you love what you do.
Be Honest (Within Reason)
This doesn’t mean you sit and spill what happened over your weekend in minute detail. It means being honest in the little things. If you make a mistake, apologise. If you don’t know something, admit it and demonstrate good practice when looking up information. If a student tells you something you don’t know, thank them rather than resenting them. If they think you respect them and the knowledge they have, they will respect your opinion more.
At any one time you will have about 30 individuals in your room with their own stories and backgrounds. You may know their FFT prediction, their working at grades and their strengths and weaknesses in terms of your subject in minute detail, but do you know them? Younger students especially are keen to share, and you can develop a relationship through interest in their stories. Of course, there has to be a limit and you don’t want your whole lesson taken up with stories of family trips at the weekend. When it’s appropriate, listen. Take a real interest. Ask questions and follow things up. Showing students how to listen and respond in conversation is a valuable lesson in itself, and treating students as individual people does no end of good.
You are a unique and influential being. You will probably remember certain teachers at school and they are likely to be the quirky ones. The ones who allowed you to scratch between the surface and reveal the human underneath. Give them a hint of what you are about. Music you like. Films you watch. Hobbies you have. Books you read. All of that seems small and silly, but to a young person sharing hours of their day with you, it can mean a lot. Show them you are more than your job and more than just some initials on their timetable.
What at do you do in your classroom to build relationships? Do you have any great approaches to building relationships? How important do you think relationships are in a classroom?
Thanks for stopping by!