Monday, April 7, 2014

“Be not another, if you can be yourself. ” ― Paracelsus

Teaching is really more of a balancing act than most people know or understand.  And as the teacher, even as you perform in front of your class countless times and hours per day, you must be yourself, as it is just too difficult to try to be someone else.  I have always had pity for the teachers who must wear a mask of competence, never lowering the mask to show the real person beneath the mask.  Although you must never cross the line to become “friends” with your students, I have found that self-disclosure is an important part of the teaching process.  Just as you like to have a trusting relationship with the mechanic who fixes your car or the stylist who cuts your hair, personal relationships and trust are also important in the classroom.  Students enjoy being in a classroom in which they feel they know a little about you as a person.  I am not advocating sharing your total life with your classes, but I believe it is a good idea to give students an appropriate peek at your personal life, and to always be yourself.  Students love seeing pictures of your children, your husband, and your pets; family pictures on your desk will generate conversations that would never have happened without the pictures.  Students will see you as more of a “person” and less as just the “teacher,” and you will also notice a difference in behavior.  When students feel that they have a personal relationship with you, discipline problems diminish, as your conversations with them show students that you value them enough to share some personal snippets of your life with them.   All the better if you live in the community in which you teach, as students will enjoy seeing you in restaurants, the mall, the library, or the grocery store with your families, because it helps them to see who you really are outside of the classroom setting.  Meeting the parents under non-school circumstances is also an underestimated pleasantry.  As I reflect upon the chance encounters with students that I had through the years, I remember that I always made sure to say something positive to the parents about their child.  (No matter how old we are, everyone likes to hear praise from the teacher!)  A casual conversation at the mall is a nice way to be introduced to the parents, who will see you as a real person.  Later on in the school year, should you need to speak to parents about a school issue, you will already have met the parent and know a bit about the family, and both will be to your benefit.

Part of this self-disclosure/being yourself is this: students have a strong need to feel that their teacher “likes” them.  When you have a pre-class conversation about going to a movie or seeing a concert or sporting event, that conversation helps the students to connect with you personally.  Be sure to give these conversations your full attention.  Your keen listening will show that you value students’ opinions and care about their ideas, thus making them feel that they are “liked” by the teacher. 

Several times in my career, I used the idea of being “liked” to my advantage.  Through the years, I had many students who were not completing their work and handing it in.  I would see them individually, and ask about the work.  When they would not have a good reason for not doing the work, I would look them straight in the eyes and ask “Don’t you like me anymore?  I am doing all I can to help you to learn, and then you are not doing your part.  I have the feeling that you don’t like me anymore. That hurts my feelings.”  The student would inevitably get upset and say something like “Yes, Mrs. Rittman, I still like you.  I didn’t know you cared so much about this.  I will do the work.  May I have another day or two to finish it and hand it in?”  Of course, I always said yes.  The student/teacher relationship is a precarious one, but handling students with kindness and respect, being yourself, and sharing who you are will help you in every aspect of your classroom. 

Rittman Publishing, LLC

For updates on Dede’s soon to be published book RITTMAN RULES!  A Practical Guide for Student Teaching, please visit

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