I was embarrassed and felt awkward. It was truly an uncomfortable moment. A fellow educator, far my superior, quietly entered my classroom bordering on tears. He had had one of those days.
"I don't know, they've all been a little distracted lately" I replied.
As unsettling as the situation was, it got my wheels spinning.
What makes a teacher likable?
This article is not about the characteristics of effective teachers. This article is about what makes an instructor favorable in the eyes of their students. I began digging around looking for a concrete, research backed answer.
The path to the answer lead me from Daniel Willingham's awesome book Why Don't Students Like School to a paper from the 1960's where a definitive answer emerged.
This article will highlight the two characteristics that make an instructor likable. Why do we care?
Because students will do the work for teachers they like.
Gerald Meredith was concerned with the same question in the late 1960's and was able to publish this gem. Remarkably unreadable, one phrase stuck out to me. In Meredith's words:
"...the present study indicated clearly two major ingredients must be considered in the development of a meaningful taxonomy, namely, instructor impact and instructional impact."
In Willingham's words: teachers are liked because they are organized (instructional impact) and they are nice people (instructor impact).
The answer is obvious and perhaps, paradoxically, this is why it goes unnoticed.
Let's take a look at each one separately.
Characteristic #1: Students like teachers that are organized
Organization implies care. Someone who has taken time to organize their wardrobe for the day appears more "put together." Or another analogy: would you rather receive medical help from a doctor whose work space belongs on Hoarders: Buried Alive or a clean, neat office?
Put yourself in the shoes of the students. Why is their room messy? Because they don't care if it is messy. They transfer that thinking into our work environment: Mr Smith's desk is messy, he doesn't care that it's messy.
Organization also has roots in how your class is structured, planned, and implemented.
Organize not only your desk, but your curriculum, order of activities, and your assessments. Show your students you CARE by organizing their time within your class. They'll feel like their time is being spent wisely and like you.
Characteristic #2: Students like teachers that are nice
People like being happy. People become happy when around other happy people because, we think, of these funny little cells in our brains called mirror neurons. Seeing someone behave a certain way or perform a certain action makes our brain think that we are doing the same thing. Emotions are known to be contagious.
Think about and apply this to yourself. Personally speaking, I like people who are happy and I don't like people that are chronically sad. Being happy and sad have huge educational implications. Being happy is linked to productivity. With your students, being happy is linked to academic productivity.
To tie it all together, being a nice person will cause your students to be happy. Being happy increases productivity: they do more work for you.
But be careful. It seems that students like teachers that are both of these, not simply one. Said differently: you can be organized but not seem friendly, and they won't like you. You can seem nice, but not be organized, and they won't like you.
The combination for success is being organized and nice.
How can you start? Take five minutes tomorrow and clean your desk top. Also, smile :)
Thanks for reading.