Earlier this week, a colleague of mine, whose son I taught, Facebook messaged me about a TikTok of my cat that I posted to my story. She said that my TikTok account horrified her son (because old people can’t be on trendy apps?). But that’s not the real reason I’m explaining this. She also said in the message that her son liked me as a teacher and that he said he couldn’t understand why so many people in the class that I had him in didn’t.
Did this revelation sting my teacher pride? Just enough for me to say “ouch” and move on. It didn’t even leave a tiny welt, but it left me thinking about why students may dislike me.
- This is just a personal observation, but some students equate subjects they dislike with disliking the person who’s teaching it. It’s flawed logic, but have you met middle schoolers? I ask them to do hard things like write essays and make them read difficult texts on their own (and so many of them despise reading and writing). Then, I have high expectations and ask them to rewrite and rewrite again. In some of their minds I don’t like to read and write and redo assignments I’ve already done adds up to I don’t like the teacher who makes me do it.
- I hold them accountable for the school rules and their behavior in my classroom. I try to be consistent, and I know I don’t catch everything, but I will not let them just “do what they want,” particularly when it prevents them from getting their work done, inhibits others from getting work done, or makes for an uncomfortable learning environment because of racist/sexist/anti-LGBTQ+ comments. They’re middle schoolers. Of course they dislike being fussed at and written up, and guess what—they’re going to dislike the person who does it too.
- I make them uncomfortable—Part A: I am not a Southerner’s glass of sweet tea. I’m from Illinois where we drink our tea unsweetened. I do not lay on an outer layer of charm. I’m blunt and logical and do not hide behind layers of fluff. You cannot butter me up like a delicious cast iron-made, golden biscuit. This can be shocking to my Louisiana students if they’ve never had a teacher from somewhere else. Parents called me “That Damn Yankee Teacher” at my first teaching job in rural Louisiana. It’s good for the students to be exposed to people from different areas than their own. I’ll forever be offered as tribute and be disliked for this very reason because I’m not going anywhere anytime soon. This Midwesterner can handle your child’s dislike of me just because I’m different from what they know. (Sidebar: I know I’m not alone in this. I know several teachers who have moved from other places to teach in Louisiana, and they’ve told me the same thing.)
- I make them uncomfortable—Part B: We also talk about difficult topics in class, and that makes them uncomfortable. It’s not just diagramming sentences and asking comprehension questions about Romeo and Juliet in English class anymore. Heck, the canon is no longer comprised of only dead white guys. If you haven’t been in a middle school or an English classroom in a decade or two, it looks completely different, and we barely teach what teachers taught twenty years ago. We talk about questioning traditions and gender roles throughout history. We talk about racism and the Holocaust. We talk about suicide. We talk about war. We talk about religion. And then I ask them to write about those topics through the lens of literature. They might balk against these topics because they’re exposed to different ways of thinking and different cultures and that makes them uncomfortable. And guess what, them being uncomfortable in my classroom might translate into them disliking me.
- I’m a woman. There. I said it. You might be thinking, she can’t possibly be serious when most teachers are female. But, y’all. It’s real. It’s a thing. Some students yeet dislike my way simply because I exist as a woman in a classroom, a woman who doesn’t fit into this nicely-shaped-ridiculously-tiny-preconceived-notion box of what a female teacher should be.
Is the takeaway from this that your child would walk into my classroom and hate me? No. As far as I know, I haven’t heard that the 8th grade tea’s flavor is that all-students-hate-Mrs.-Ram-Jam. I’ve heard mostly positive feedback about myself from students and their parents, but I’ve never won and will probably never win any popularity contests.
I think the takeaway from this is that when your student tells you they don’t like a teacher, don’t just take it at face value. Ask them to vocalize why they don’t like a particular teacher and try to get them to elaborate. That dislike might just be flawed reasoning, unwillingness to take responsibility for their own actions, discomfort, or society talking.