“Your students don’t have to like you,” said my graduate school professor many times throughout the term. This mantra served me well over the years—as a reminder of who not to be as a teacher myself.
Whatever his intention, this man’s words felt like an endorsement for treating students like widgets to tinker around with, adjust, and then pass down the assembly line.
As a teacher, I probably spend more of my waking life with my students than I do with my immediate family, and I try hard to spend that time showing them that I care about them and am invested in building those relationships. Positive relationships are the bedrock of human development. In Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, safety, belonging, and love are right after food, water, shelter, and rest. If my students do not like me, it means that I am missing something, and I am not meeting their needs. If my child told me that he didn’t like his teacher, I would be worried.
One great way to build positive relationships in the classroom is by giving adequate time and space for students to read aloud and share their own writing. Writing is a discipline that fully embraces student personality and voice, and one that enjoys an audience.
Growing up, I was a struggling writer. I wrote for myself, but I also had to turn that writing in to my teacher. If I was lucky, they would return my writing with a stamp or sticker, and maybe even a note or two in red pen. I’m not sure I learned much from that process. I wonder what more I could have learned if I’d had the opportunity to share my writing with my peers. If we’d had the chance to really write for one another.
Back when I was in school, we were given very few opportunities to share our writing aloud with our classmates, and there was very little culture created around writing. Because of that, it took me a long time to understand what teachers meant when they said to consider the audience.
How do you know who your audience is when it remains in the hypothetical? Where do you find an audience if your writing just gets placed into a teacher’s file folder and then returned a month or two later?
Every classroom has an audience that has been there all along, undervalued and underutilized. For every classroom, the easiest, most accessible audience available is the student body.
Kids should be writing for each other, but to do that, they need to be given the explicit opportunity to do so. As a teacher, you have to make time and space for them to share their writing in partnerships, small groups, and whole-class situations. Humans are social, and we learn by example. We learn from each other’s mistakes and successes. We grow as a community by sharing stories and ideas.
Publish your students’ work; don’t just post their work in the hallway on the bulletin board. Physically print an anthology of student work on the photocopy machine, and give kids copies so they can take them home and spend as much time as they need with them. So, they can study what they’ve written, just as much as what their classmates have created. Give them multiple opportunities to apply what they’ve learned and have new goals to work toward.
Children learn more if they have the opportunity to learn from one another. They’ll share their knowledge and genuinely listen to each other—oftentimes, much better than they’ll listen to their teacher. Giving kids the opportunity to read and share their writing regularly throughout the process leads to revising and editing in real time. Kids might feel vulnerable when they share their work, but they’ll want to take the risk if you are there to positively facilitate the process and reward your students with positive phrasing and enthusiasm. This is where your skills as a teacher are crucial.
As a published author of books for children, I have chosen my students as my target audience when I come up with new story ideas. I want to make them laugh, feel empathy, and feel seen. I want to inspire them and reflect their lives. I want to transform them and teach them concepts without their knowing. Overall, I think I just want them to enjoy reading. And if I’m honest, I guess I want them to like me a little bit, too.