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Do Teachers Like Their Students? This One Does

I’ve been hearing in general and reading, mostly on Facebook, a lot of complaints lately about young people. The usual rants. You know: lazy, entitled, bad manners, bad grammar, and on and on. I fight these attitudes when I have the time (and the patience), but it has also reminded me of how important “liking students” is to be an effective teacher.

Why Does Liking Students Matter?

There’s a meme that’s been winding its way around the Internet lately that answers this question:

“If they like you, they will want to learn from you.” It’s true, even among older students, even adult students. But more important, students will open themselves to what you have to teach them, if they believe you like them. Your opinion of them matters to them. Who wants to be disliked? We may not feel a need to be liked, especially not by everyone, but isn’t it better to be liked than to be disliked?

Years ago, one of my teaching heroes, Peter Elbow, wrote an essay called “Ranking, Evaluating, and Liking” that was partially about the power of deliberately liking student writing as you graded it. If you can make yourself like a student’s paper, the more open you are to what it is trying to say and do–and then as a teacher, you can be more helpful in your feedback.

When Communicating with Parents

There is no more important a time for a teacher to like students than when communicating with parents. I tell my pre-service teachers: Before you speak with a parent find something–anything–to like about the student. And it must be sincere. Students (and their parents) can sniff out any insincere comment. In that conversation, lead with what you like about the student. If you mean it and the parent believes you, it can pave the way for a positive discussion even about a very difficult matter.

I’ve had students who’ve greatly challenged my analytical skills, but I’ve always been able to find something to like. He’s got a sharp sense of humor; she’s very nice to other students; he’s got really creative ideas; she’s got a lot of confidence. Expressing that like before any difficult conversation sets a reasonably good tone.

Why I Like Today’s Young People

I think today’s young people are getting the shaft. When I was young, the economy was strong, there were jobs waiting for me after graduation. Yes, I had to move about 300 miles away, but there were good jobs there. Higher education was much cheaper, and what loans I needed didn’t require predatory interest rates. At the age of 21, I was able to branch out on my own and afford a decent life. Things have changed considerably since then, and young people get far less help and have far more challenges than I had.

And yet, the young people I meet are generally very ethical. They are more environmentally conscious, more concerned about others, ready and willing to live much

more modestly. Many of them work many hours per week without complaint. They have more aspirations to travel, and they spend  the money they have more wisely. They are more careful about what they eat, and they are better informed about the world around them. Sure there are some lazy, entitled students with poor manners, but no more among young people than among all the other people I encounter.

It’s a great historical pastime for adults to complain about “these kids today.” But don’t believe it. We’re lucky to have today’s young people around.


Addendum: I’m honored that this post has been translated into Dutch here.


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