Thank you to everyone who participated in the poll. I will leave the poll open for any newcomers in the future.
It is certainly clear that the majority believes a teacher’s likability plays a role in the learning process. As one viewer wrote, a student does not have to like a teacher to learn from him or her, but a teacher’s likability has the potential to influence learning. So let’s move on to the matter of how exactly likability affects learning and to what degree we should be concerned about our likability.
Do you worry about being liked by your students? Long before I began teaching online, I learned to accept that my personality and my teaching style would not be liked by everyone. When I was part of a teaching staff, I knew what made the school strong was that collectively we were liked by the students. Each one of us was someone’s favorite. As long as I knew I was doing my best and that the majority of learners in my classroom walked out satisfied, I did not worry about trying to convert everyone into a member of my fan club.
Nevertheless, I definitely believe that a teacher’s likability plays a role in the learning process. A positive emotional connection between the teacher and a student is conducive to learning. If a student is somehow uncomfortable with or not very trusting of the teacher, the feelings can translate into a lack of reception. The instruction may not be fully absorbed, and the student may be less willing to produce in the target language. What is a disliked teacher to do in a setting where both the teacher and the student are locked into their roles for the duration of a course? Continue on. You should always teach with awareness of your students’ needs and interests, but you cannot change your personality or do a complete overhaul of your teaching style because one student does not like your lessons.
That is not to say that a teacher should never respond to feedback (verbal or nonverbal) by modifying his or her instruction. I mean to say that a student needs to give a teacher the chance to be helpful by using his or her chosen methods. Only after a fair chance has been given should there be discussion of modifying instruction. One mark of a good learner is the ability to learn from multiple sources and through different methods. If learners are committed to their language goals, they will try to adapt to the methods used by their teacher, even if they are not particularly fond of the teacher. With a hard-working student and a teacher who is dedicated, competent, and professional, learning can take place despite a lack of warmth a student feels towards the teacher.
We may not be liked by all the students who turn to us for instruction, but we can do our best to put our sensitivity aside and remember that the priority is on teaching and not gaining our students’ affection. If we become aware that a student is not fond of us, we can consider what if anything could be done to help the situation. We are obligated to maintain quality instruction, so we need to be reflective and open to evaluation by others.
Here are some tips that promote a healthy degree of concern when it comes to your likability:
- Allow for student feedback on your lessons. What you’re looking for isn’t evidence that they like you, but rather evidence that they’re learning from you.
- Reflect on and respond to feedback. In some cases, especially when feedback is given anonymously, you won’t be able to respond verbally, but you can make modifications in the classroom accordingly. Just remember: making adjustments to improve your teaching is one thing, but responding to complaints by throwing out practices you strongly believe in is another.
- Talk with your colleagues. If there is a method or strategy you believe in but are aware that at least one student doesn’t favor it, discuss its value objectively. Do other teachers support your practices? Do they recommend alternatives?
- Place importance on creating a positive and welcoming atmosphere, but don’t equate that with trying to get each and every student to be your best friend.
- Teach from your heart as much as from your brain. Competent teaching combined with genuine passion is powerful. At the very least, students will respect you if not like you.