Should I care if students like me?

I usually agree with Seth Godin but I think the tone of his post about Applause is wrong for education (I realize that he is talking about marketing). Particularly this quote:
 Who decides if your work is good? When you are at your best, you do.”

I think teachers often evaluate themselves too easily and blame students for their failures. I think students should have a say in evaluating teachers and how they teach. My concern is with teachers who dismiss all negative student comments and never consider if they are valid. These same teachers often assume that their teacher-centered methods are fine and that students need to adapt to them rather than vice-versa.

Too often I hear from educators comments such as “you can’t please everyone” or it is not my job to “be a student’s friend.” Now while there is some truth to these axioms I am concerned about teachers who seem to ignore how students feel about them as a person. Some teachers even brag about students being disciplined or “put in their place.”

So should teachers care if students “like” them? I think they should. Our first job as educators is to build relationships with students. How can students learn from or with us if they do not like us? Think back to your teachers (maybe way back for some of us). What do you remember? All of the content they taught you or how they made you feel? So I am concerned about teachers whose attitude is that is does not matter how students feel about them. This does not require us to be “best friends” or necessarily hang out socially with our students. But I do believe that teachers should get to know students personally. Students who enjoy you as a person are also more likely to enjoy your class.

So this week we had students fill out a long survey evaluating our school, the teachers, and our classes. I am the first to admit that I do not always accept criticism well (although ironically I really do want it). What came through on many of the anonymous surveys is that students do feel that I care about them and enjoy our class. I feel like I am doing a good job on my #1 goal for this year.

So I will go so far as to argue that making sure we have positive relationships with students is the most important and long-lasting part of our jobs. Will every student like us? Probably not, but we should try to build relationships with every student and impart love and confidence into their lives.

So Mr. Politician, #standardizethat

12 thoughts on “Should I care if students like me?

  1. William Chamberlain

    There is a big difference between can you learn from someone you don’t like and will you learn from someone you don’t like. For every story I hear from an adult talking about the “teacher from hell” that they learned the most from I hear another story about how they didn’t learn anything from them. In the end, life is too freaking short to spend nine months in a room where the person delights in being mean to you.

  2. Mike Kaechele

    True Bill and I think that only self-motivated students who care about their grades will work for the “teacher from hell.” Many other students just opt out of that style of classroom with a “whatever so fail me” attitude.

    The more I think about this I think relationships are most important with diverse students, lower SES students, and any students who have a history of being unsuccessful at school. They need someone to care about them and believe in them before they can believe in themselves.

  3. Suzanne Rogers

    Mike, many teachers fail to understand that covering content is really the easiest thing that we do in the classroom. I agree that we must build respectful relationships with each other. I agree that teachers should have an end of the year survey for students. I do. I read their responses in the summer. It would be easier to ignore negative comments. Instead, I reflect.

  4. Linda Aragoni

    I’m afraid the term “like” is not likely to produce meaningful discussion. Likes and dislikes are emotional and often irrational. Some people you may dislike because of their personalities or some other aspect of their behavior. Some you may not like; that is, you may have no positive feeling toward them even though you have no specific reason for disliking them.

    What is necessary within a classroom is mutual respect, which is an entirely different matter than liking. Very little can be accomplished in society without mutual respect, as the American political landscape shows.

    1. Mike Kaechele

      I think most people that you know that you dislike you have a reason for it. I spend 10 hours a week with my students so they have time to like or dislike me. Again I do not need to be their best friend or favorite person but if they have a negative feeling towards me then I believe it will harm their learning. Especially those who are not self-motivated, high achievers.

      I think the key is your second sentence: “Likes and dislikes are emotional.” If a student has negative emotions towards me then it will affect their attitude and effort in class negatively.

  5. Mark Malaby

    Of course you want students to like you. Relationships predicate learning, and when you clearly state the course goals and rationale in a way that shows you care about the students, work with them, hear them, flex, etc. they WILL like you and will invest in the class and the learning. I have been thinking about this topic a lot lately –
    I appreciate your thoughtfulness on this blog and think you are on the right track!



  6. Joni

    Well said. I like to use a student survey to assess my affect on each class. I’m not always good a making the changes but I do want to improove. Can you link to survey your school uses? I’m always looking for ways to make the survey better, too. Thanks.

  7. Dvora Geller

    There is something to students “liking” you, but on the other side, if you are asking students to do things like struggle through problems and work in new ways (PBL) that they are unused to, they may not “like” you for that reason. Of course you want a positive environment and that is a goal to always be working for.

  8. Mike Kaechele


    Thanks for the comment but I look at it the exact opposite way. If I want to challenge students to push themselves in a new PBL environment than I better make sure I have a relational capacity with them so they will go the extra mile with effort. If students don’t like me that can be an excuse to cop out when they are challenged.

  9. Paul Bogush

    It is not important for teachers to spend time getting the kids to “like” them, they just need to spend time “liking” the kids.

    From the first day of school, the only message should be—“Kid, I am lucky to have you in my class this year.”

    My line is “I am glad that you chose me, and I wouldn’t want to be with anyone else.”

    Copy of my class eval

    1. concretekax

      Like the way you say that Paul. I am not worried about kids liking me, but am talking about relationships and want to have a positive one with every student.

      On that note a student that I had some behavioral struggles with this year gave me a hug as it was her last day. That was a very good feeling to see her finish the year well.

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