I chose to ask my 8th graders to give me candid advice on what teachers can do to create an environment where they feel loved, comfortable, and free to learn. Their answers, not at all what I expected, blew me away and gave me a lot to think about as I prepare for the upcoming school year. Although this advice applies to teachers, it can translate into any situation where an adult is a caretaker of a child.
- Don’t be a hypocrite. Students can spot, from a mile away, hypocrisy. If you tell them not to gossip, but they see you gossiping, they will notice. If you ask them not to chew gum, but you chew gum yourself, they will notice. Students have a keen sense of fairness, and they lose respect for you if your actions don’t match your words.
- Be willing to be wrong. When you goof up or mistakenly accuse a child of doing something wrong when they are not incorrect, own up to it. Kids need to see that their teachers are human and make blunders just like they do. If students catch on that you refuse to acknowledge making a mistake, you may lose respect and authority in their eyes.
- Don’t pick favorites. As teachers, we all know that it is wrong to pick favorites in class. What we may not realize, however, is that it may come across to students that their teachers have favorites when they actually don’t. Allowing only a certain few to answer questions or overlooking some kids’ faults while harping on others can come across as showing favoritism. This has the potential of communicating to students that you are not approachable.
- Be confident. Middle schoolers can be especially crafty at making teachers feel bad. They can sometimes twist situations to make them lose confidence, giving the upper hand. My students shared with me that they respect teachers who maintain authority with confidence and professionalism despite the comments, attitudes, and actions of the other kids in the room.
- Have a good attitude. Kids want teachers who look at situations with positivity, not assuming the worst but assuming the best. Our attitude impacts their attitude. The moment a teacher walks in to work, they are setting the tone of the classroom.
- Don’t take your bad mood out on the kids. Everyone has a rough day. So many teachers have those horror class periods that never seem to end or that one student who gets on their last nerve. However, that does not give teachers the right to take their bad mood out on the students. When the class period changes, it is important to start the next one with a clean slate, leaving prior emotions at the door.
- Discipline fairly. My students mentioned specifically that it bothered them when a teacher doesn’t discipline evenly. If a troublesome student does something wrong, teachers are quick to pay attention to it, but sometimes when kids who never get in trouble do the same thing, nothing is said. Even though teachers know what they are doing, the kids see this as unfair and even as “targeting” certain students.
- Be happy. This statement, as simple as it sounds, is very important. Kids want to know that the adults in their life enjoy waking up every morning and working with them. Being happy to see them shows them that they are valued.
The teaching profession, as well as any profession where adults are caretakers of children, is so important. Caretakers may be the only loving adult a child will ever see throughout their day and their only glimpse of someone who is reliable and safe. Being fair, having a positive attitude, and following through with discipline when working with kids can have a huge impact when setting up that child for success! Don’t let kids fall through the cracks!