Build Better Relationships by being Yourself

Yesterday we discussed social media. I explained why marketing in this day and age is really about marketing yourself, which is why the various types of social media are so very important.

Today, while the advice I’m about to give can be used in marketing, I really want to talk about building relationships in the classroom, because, contrary to popular opinion, teaching is not just “drill and kill…”

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I know it’s odd to start this topic at the END of the school year, but I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about whether or not this is the job I really want to have. Am I really a good teacher? I’ve crashed a couple of times this school year, and apparently everyone was convinced I wasn’t coming back from it.

But my kids missed me.

How do I know? Because they found me on Twitter and Instagram and emailed me, and one girl even managed to find my phone number and text me!

My students were so happy to see me when I came back that it felt like a miracle. They have worked harder for me, and listened better since I’ve been back. It was like that kids’ book where the teacher goes missing for a while and is replaced by some wicked witch of a teacher.

And the people I’ve spoken to all tell me it’s because I have a knack for building relationships.

So why is that exactly?

What is it that I do that is different from other teachers?

It goes back to what I was saying yesterday about the changing way we view ourselves, our stories, and our lives. Everyone wants to feel important enough to be the center of their own Reality Television show, but they also want to watch everyone else’s show, too.

One of my favorite quirky movies is about that very thing… well, sort of…

The key is to present yourself as an open book. Don’t be afraid to tell students things… not intimate details (obviously), but definitely be willing to tell them about your weekend. If you saw a good movie, share that. If you have a new niece or nephew, share that, too.

And then ask them about themselves.

Students really want you to make them feel important, and they want to trust you, too. The only way to accomplish both is to create an atmosphere of respect and transparency.

Same as if you were marketing yourself online.

Be open, be honest, have a reason for why you’re doing certain things.

This is no longer the age of “because I said so…” It doesn’t fly with today’s kids, not even the little ones.

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Many of these kids have parents that are too close to their own age, and so they act more like siblings than parents. There is a lack of authority in the home because you have children raising children, basically. And really, it’s reality television raising children because the parents and grandparents are working long hours trying just to survive.

So the kids are at home, watching reality television, watching how grown people reject authority to get good ratings. They watch how people turn on one another for the entertainment value of a good argument/fight. They watch how people air their dirty laundry for the whole world to see because we’re fascinated by the grotesque.

One of my favorite senior level books to teach says it best: “fascination of the abomination.”

And of course, they show it well in the more modern film adaptation: Apocalypse Now.

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We like to see things go wrong, which is why Reality Television always has that one terrible contestant or housemate or bachelor who makes it to the very end. I’ve talked about it before because I think that’s why Donald Trump is winning: “the fascination of the abomination…”

But, what it means is that our love for negativity has done away with shows that actually teach morality, shows that have a story or a plot. They’ve been replaced by shows that tell all, creating a culture in which we expect to see every single facet of a person’s life.

Even now, Prince William is getting flack for not being more transparent with his little piece of the Royal Family. Media specialists are saying that there will be backlash because part of being Royal is to be seen, and because of what happened to his mother, Prince William has been doing his best not to let that happen. He was somewhat chastised by the press for his secret skiing trip with his family. No press was told where they went, and only a single photographer was allowed to take pictures, which were carefully chosen and released after they returned.

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But I’m getting off topic… Mostly because I think it’s a sad state of affairs for our entertainment industry and that it has had a negative effect on our society and culture as a whole.

Either way, whether right or wrong, our students expect the same level of transparency from their teachers. It’s the reason why you hear about teachers getting fired for twerking while on vacation, or being too friendly on social media with their students.

There is this expectation of transparency, but also an expectation for teachers to be above the common, every day person’s behavior.

This is one of the main reasons I had taken such great lengths to keep this blog separate from my teaching life.

It’s a double standard, to be sure, but one that is probably not going away anytime soon.

In the meantime, by giving the students that transparency (to a point) and just being straightforward with them at all times, I earn their respect. My students know I hate that stupid test they have to take as much as they do. They also know that what the state is asking them to write is NOT an essay, and that I will teach them how to write a proper essay if given the time and opportunity to not simply teach to the test.

For those of you who don’t know, the state test asks them to write a 26 lined Expository or Persuasive essay. Meanwhile, the expository essay is more of a personal narrative, but lacking the first person narration, while the persuasive essay is really an argument and does not include any of the emotional appeals. It’s one of a gazillion reasons why the test is flawed.

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I think maybe I may have some issues to work out thanks to that stupid state test… But my biggest tip for building relationships is to just be genuine with your kiddos. Students can smell bullshit a mile away and will call you on it. Be genuine, tell the truth, be honest, and don’t be afraid to talk to them about you and your experiences. They will learn more from your example of how to be a good human than they will the information you show them in a book.

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