Encouragement, Empowerment, and Likability

We all want to be liked—teachers are no different. Unfortunately, one of the major mistakes many new teachers make is attempting to have their students like them by befriending them. This often takes the form of encouraging students to call them by their given name rather than by their surname, and generally to place themselves on the same level as their students.

Certainly, teachers should be friendly, but friendship is not the way to build likability—nor is it the building block young people need. Encouragement and empowerment are the essentials, as they also lead to increased self-discipline.

I recall the story of a first grader who did not learn how to read and had to repeat the first grade. At the end of her second year of first grade, her assessment again showed that she lacked sufficient reading skills to advance to the next grade. During the assessment meeting where the teachers were considering placement of students for the upcoming school year, a second grade teacher said, “Place her in my classroom for next year.”

On the first day of school as the low self-esteemed youngster walked into the classroom, her new teacher cheerfully greeted her at the door: “I’ve been waiting for you. This year I’m going to teach you how to read.”

That second grade girl grew up to become a reading teacher. I heard her tell the story of how she still remembers the comments her second grade teacher continually made to encourage and empower her.

The relationships that students have with their teachers come from the influence teachers have on them. This results from empowering young people, rather than by befriending them.

As in instructional coordinator in an urban high school in Los Angeles, I witnessed how students exerted enormous effort for the quietest, oldest teacher I have ever met. This builder of young people did not befriend her students but rather encouraged and empowered them to do their best. Did her students like her? They loved her!

As you plan for your new school year, consider how you can encourage and empower students.