Being a meaner teacher

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by bledsoe on March 22, 2011

A recent change I made in my teaching style came about when I realized that my students weren't working as hard in my classes as I thought they should be, and I decided that it was at least partly due to the fact that I was being too nice to them. I became aware that the tone in my classes was a little too much on the "laid back and friendly" side and not enough on the "we're here to work" side. So I made the decision to be a little meaner and it's made a big difference.

Last semester I made it a point to do the whole "greet my students at the door every day" thing. I'd say, "Good morning Sarah," and "Hey, Josh, how's it going?" and "Hey, how was the game last night?" as my students came into my classroom, just like all the teacher books recommend. Apparently this is supposed to communicate to your students that you care about them, or that you're interested in them, or maybe just that you're an okay guy. But then I visited one of Ms. V's classes and things looked a lot different. She told me that she didn't smile for the first 20 minutes of class and the only things she said to her students for most of that time were stern reminders to get their materials out and get to work on their assignment. And her students got down to work pretty quickly.

I also used to joke around with my students on a fairly regular basis. You know, keep things relaxed, let 'em know Mr. B's got a sense of humor. But not so much anymore, and never at the beginning of class.

I'm discovering that the first few minutes of class are really important for setting a tone that's going to carry thru the whole class period, and if I set a tone that's lighthearted and friendly, then a lot of my students will take that as an indication that they can get away with stuff in Mr. B's class, or that Mr. B's class is a class that you don't have to take seriously. And suddenly, before class has even started, I've unintentionally set a tone that I don't want.

So I changed my teacher persona, though not because I enjoy being strict and stern and humorless. If I could be laid back and relaxed and still get my students to work hard I'd be happy to do that, but that doesn't seem to work very well for me. Maybe other teachers can make the LBR approach work for them. Maybe it works better for middle school or elementary school teachers? Maybe in different types of schools or for different types of classes? Or maybe it just needs to be a (smaller) part of my teacher persona and I haven't yet figured out exactly how it fits.

At any rate, my teacher persona is now much less like a good buddy and much more like a stern parent. I'm not your big brother taking you out to the movies, I'm your dad making sure you get the dishes washed. And the effect on my classes has been noticeable. My students now know that Mr. B's class is first and foremost a place where they come to work. They're not always happy about that, and I'm sure I'm not nearly as "cool" as they would like, but they're getting a lot more work done.

Image by Meagan on Flickr.

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