The road to becoming an effective teacher is not a smooth one. It has many potholes into which we can fall and roadblocks that we must overcome.
Few things will trip up a teacher more quickly than trying to be their students’ friend. The teacher may have good motives, desiring to be someone that their students can come to for advice. But this good intention is misguided. Yes, we teachers should want to be approachable, but we are mistaken when we think that we have to be our students’ friends in order for them to seek us out. If we try to be friends, our classrooms will suffer, and as a result, our students will suffer. We simply will not be as effective as we could be.
Thankfully, it’s not an either-or situation. We can be professional, effective teachers while also being personable and approachable.
Being a professional teacher does not mean that you have to be uncaring or boring if you keep in mind these three principles:
- See yourself as the students’ mentor, not their friend. Effective teachers care about their students and want to be involved in their lives, but they also realize that they must take the role of mentor, not friend. A mentor steers and guides his students without acting like their peer.
- Be friendly, not familiar. Be friendly and open in your interactions with students, but avoid being familiar. For example, if a student shares with you that they got to go snorkeling on their recent vacation, a friendly response may sound like this: “Wow, Adam, it sounds like you and your family had a great time! I love snorkeling. Did you get to see any turtles?” On the other hand, an unprofessional, familiar response would be, “Dude, that’s sweet! I’m so jealous! Although I betcha’ you were scared of sharks, huh?”
- Care more about being effective than being liked. While everyone has an innate desire to be liked, you cannot let this natural inclination control you as a teacher. If you worry about whether or not your students like you, you won’t be professional, and your classroom will become very difficult to control. Instead, focus on your desire to be an effective teacher whom the students can respect.
The teacher who is caring yet professional will be much more effective, and ultimately much more influential, than the familiar, unprofessional teacher.
For more thoughts on this topic, download my new e-book Create Your Dream Classroom, in which we discuss professionalism in more detail.
What other principles help you to be a caring, professional teacher?