Bringing the L Factor into your Teaching Practice: In 3 Simple Ways

download-4587363 By Guest Blogger: Jack Yee

One of the biggest myths about teaching is that you have to love your students.

Love is a loaded word and many people have difficulty with this complex emotion. I am a great example. I love ”all you can eat” pizza night, but I struggle to love my students especially when they refuse to line-up after I have asked them (at least 900 times) to do so. Even people that I do love on a regular basis like my wife, I have moments when I wish I could buy her a one-way ticket to a place far away. Regardless of this fleeting feeling, I still deeply care about her no matter how upset I get.

This is the attitude that I have toward my students and I highly suggest you do the same. Asking teachers to love all their students isn’t realistic or necessary. What is essential is that you care 100% about all your kids even the ones that you feel indifferent towards. This isn’t easy, I know that.
Heck, I had kids in my classes that drove me to high blood pressure medication, but I had to find ways to care about their well-being. I’m not talking about fake interest either. Kids have a built-in BS meter that can detect insincerity instantly. download-9966004
What you need to do is develop genuine care for all your students, especially kids you are lukewarm towards. Once I found it in myself to have real concern for all my students, it completely changed the dynamics in our relationship. In other words, things just got better between us. You can experience this positive shift as well.
Here are three tips to help you care more for your students:

1. Find Compassion: It’s hard to love anybody when you’re running out of patience. All you want to do is scream and berate them for their misbehavior. In difficult times when it’s hard to find love, shift your emphasis to compassion. Instead of honing in on your anger, look for reasons behind their struggles. What you will discover is an explanation for your students’ inappropriate actions. This by no means excuses them, but it will help you see the bigger picture. 
How to be more compassionate: A while back I struggled with making a connection with a student that was constantly acting out. When I decided to develop a reward system for him, I realized that I knew nothing about him! Then I discovered he had no contact with his parents and he was living with his grandmother.  My feeling toward him changed dramatically and I dedicated spending more time with him. As a result, his disruption in class became minimal. The lesson is get to know your learners. Spend some time finding out who your students are. Ask them questions about their life. Be inquisitive and curious about what their needs are. The best way to do this is greet them in the morning and ask about how they are doing and what they did the previous night.  Don’t forget to be sincere when you’re asking questions.  Kids will pick up on your insincerity. Be truly interested in who they are and they’ll feel it, but more importantly, they’ll know that you really care about them. 

2. Find your empathy. Many teachers tell me that have a hard time loving some of their students because they just can’t relate with them. It’s hard to care for somebody when there seems to be nothing in common between you and the other person. However, you have more similarities with your students than you ever realize. When you become more empathetic toward your students, you’ll see yourself in them, even those that push your buttons. When you find the commonality, you’ll have valuable insights on their behavior and how to correct it. How to be more empathetic. I need to remind myself that being empathic is a skill. It’s a skill that I must hone everyday, if not, my negative emotions can take over. For example, I had a student that was apparently throwing F-bombs at me for no specific reason at all. My natural instinct and boiling emotions wanted to scream and holler back at him. But, my sharpened empathy skills got the better of me and led me to pause. I then had an instant flashback when I was in a similar situation where I was cursing up a storm at my poor car mechanic. Like my student, I wasn’t upset at the mechanic, but at another situation and he was just an innocent bystander that I was projecting my anger towards. To develop your empathy skills, try this trick. The next time you get upset, repeat the following mantra . “Johnny is ____ (insert the inappropriate behavior or negative trait here like “Johnny is talking back to me….Johnny is fighting on the yard” just like how I used to be. This mantra will lead you to see that your student’s negative action is inside of you too. By doing so, it will elicit a more empathic response out of you and perhaps leading to a solution. 

3. Learn to be a better listener: This one has been very difficult for me. When I see my students being disrespectful, my mind instantly begins to rage and a long harsh diatribe begins writing in my head that I can’t wait to deliver. Even when my students try to explain their actions to me, it sometimes goes over me because my mind is working so quickly with counter-arguments and better comebacks to respond back to them. My intention to speak feels so urgent, most of the time, I don’t even let my students finish speaking. Unfortunately and sadly, I’ve been told by some of my students that I can be unfair because I don’t always listen to them. 

How to be a better listener: When your mind is fuming and you are overly eager to prove your point, it’s hard to process what your students are trying to say to you. You’re not really listening and instead focusing all your attention on building up your argument. The next time you get in a heated situation, just change your intention. Instead of listening to reply, listen to understand. Try to understand the whole picture instead of just the small details. Also, focus your attention of the non-verbal aspects such as body language, facial expressions, and tone and put everything together. By taking in the whole experience of the speaker, it can lead you to a more empathetic and compassionate response. By doing so, not only will you deescalate the student, but it will calm BOTH of you down so you can get reach a viable resolution to the problem. 

In sum, if you implement these caring skills to your classroom, I have no doubt it will help improve your relationships with your students. By doing so, not only will you open up your heart, but don’t be surprised at how you will change even more. You just might find yourself loving them.

download-3-1-7334217Jackson Yee has been teaching for over 30 years. He currently teaches ESL in Massachusetts. Also, he is a mental toughness and strength conditioning coach. You can follow his blog at:
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To get in the best mental shape and state of your life check out his book “Mental Toughness Training: Get in the Best Shape of Your Life.”