I HAVE heard it said many times that students do not need to like teachers in order to learn. In a similar way, many teachers have commented that they are not employed to be liked by students, but to teach them. Often this is said in a way that implies that those teachers who are liked by their students lack effectiveness, as if the two concepts are mutually exclusive.
This belief implies firstly, that whether students like teachers or not is irrelevant to their learning. Students will learn simply because the teacher is pedagogically skilled. Secondly, teachers do not need to work on their relationship with students as it is of no consequence. So long as the teacher is a good teacher, there is no need to be liked by students.
My experience however, both personal, and as an observer of countless teachers over the years leads me to dispute this belief. From my perspective, the very best teachers are able to maintain a positive relationship with students whilst being able to teach effectively.
Being liked by students and being a quality teacher are not mutually exclusive concepts, rather the opposite may be true. Teachers who are liked by students may, in fact, be able to get the best out of them. Educator and author Ruby Payne identifies positive teacher-student relationships marked by mutual respect as a key to the learning environment. She goes further, noting that relationships are at the heart of all learning. This emphasises the necessity of positive relationships between teachers and students.
The old adage that "children don't care how much you know until they know how much you care" rings true. Teachers who can connect with students, exhibiting emotional intelligence qualities, such as care, concern, empathy, respect, regard, and the like, are well placed to be effective educators.
Daniel Goleman, in his book Social Intelligence (2006) suggests these teacher attributes are even more important for at-risk students. Controlling, distant, pedagogically correct teachers struggle to engage at-risk students, whilst warm, responsive teachers can create a classroom climate where at-risk students flourish. So yes, it is possible to be liked by students and be a great teacher! In fact, the opposite may be true. Teachers who fail to build positive relationships with students, may struggle to meaningfully engage students in a learning context, and may lack effectiveness as educators.
Establishing positive relationships with students is vital. Teachers are paid to teach, not to be liked, but it may just be the case that those who are liked are best placed to teach.