Teacher Myth: 4
Teachers should not become emotionally involved with their students
There is a prevailing philosophy in educational circles that teachers are best served by not involving themselves emotionally in the lives of their students. According to this principle, a teacher must follow procedures without caught up in the difficulties and hardships of their students.
The rationale given for this is as follows:
- Teachers are not friends. Any emotional connection between a teacher and student is unprofessional and breaks the much needed divide between the teacher and student;
- Teachers lose their ability to make objective decisions regarding their students when they are emotionally involved; and
- If teachers worried about every little thing that concerned their students they would be so overwhelmed and overburdened they would cease to have the energy to work effectively.
So strong are the proponents of this philosophy that some go as far as to say that teachers shouldn’t smile until Easter (Christmas in the US and Europe). The logic being that is a teacher who smiles loses the authority required to teach effectively.
I personally despise this philosophy. I find it to be negative, destructive and absolutely outrageous. If I was forced to teach in such a manner, I would be handing my resignation in before you could say the words, “No smiling!”
When a teacher decides not to become emotionally available to their students, they automatically become emotionally distant. They become cold, unapproachable, lose their empathy, and lose the respect they thought they could only achieve by acting this way. Sure they may preside over a quiet and orderly class, but it ultimately would be doing their students more harm than good.
Teachers are the most crucial of role-models. An integral part of a teacher’s job is to model healthy behaviours. One of the most humane and important qualities a person can have is empathy. Without empathy, a person finds it hard to relate and connect with others. They can become insular, cold and selfish. These are not the ideal characteristics of a teacher.
Yes, teachers are not friends, and they never should be. But you don’t have to present yourself as a friend to connect, worry, defend or care about your students. Sure teachers must be aware that they can’t interact with their students as they would with their friends, but it doesn’t mean that they can’t share a joke or feel bad for a student going through a tough time.
The notion that a teacher loses their objectivity just because they care about their students is utterly false. Teachers can certainly can maintain objectivity whilst providing care and support for their students.
Whilst I have lost sleep on the account of students’ hardships, it did not overburden me one bit. In actual fact, I would be far more overtaxed by forcing myself to keep an emotional distance.
This terrible philosophy cost me a number of times during my teaching rounds. On one occasion it almost caused me to fail. I had a University inspector sit in on one of my lessons. Her job was to grade me on my performance. If I received anything less than a 4 out of 7, I would not only have to repeat the rounds, I would probably have to repeat the entire year. The lesson went very well. I prepared my class beforehand for the likelihood that there would be a visitor inspecting me, just so they weren’t freaked out by having a strange adult sitting in the back of their classroom.
I was really happy with how the lesson transpired. The kids were incredibly well behaved, seemed to enjoy the activity and produced very pleasing work. After the session, the inspector let me know that she graded me a 4 out of 7. She said that the class was too well behaved and that she had to mark me down accordingly. I asked her how teaching a well behaved class could possibly earn me a deduction. She said that the students were clearly behaving, not because I was a good teacher, but because they liked me and wanted me to succeed. She said that it is not viable for a teacher to teach in such a friendly manner as opposed to a firm and authorative manner and maintain control of a class.
I absolutely detest this argument. I had cold, emotionally distant teachers when I was at school, and there’s no chance I am going to become that sort of teacher. My experience since that episode has shown me that I was right. Whilst my students are not the best behaved students in the world, and I clearly don’t control a classroom nearly as well as some, my students are happy, respectful, engaged and a pleasure to teach. They respect me not because I am overly firm, but because they don’t want to disappoint me. They know I care about them and in turn they want to please me and make me proud of them
Students deserve a teacher who cares about them. There are plenty of other career options for people who pride themselves on emotional distance such as parking inspectors and tax auditors.