"I don't care if my students don't like me," my colleague brags after a department meeting.
Do I tell him the truth, that I do care if my students like me?
How else could I deal with this impossible job? What else do I have to motivate them? If they like me, maybe they will do the work and learn something. If they like me, maybe they'll go along with my ambitious projects, at least for a while. It matters so much to me that my students like me.
Is that a confession?
I shrugged and said nothing. What I should have told my colleague was that, as a student, I always worked hard for the teachers I liked and loved. I didn't care how well I did for the ones I didn't like.
In maths, I really was slow but the teachers who liked me were kind souls who appreciated my dim-witted but earnest efforts.
I worked hard for my beloved teachers because I wanted them to love me. Why would I try to please teachers who didn't like me? If I ever worked well for the teachers that I didn't like, it was out of spite.
I loved lots of my teachers, but the ones I disliked, I absolutely loathed. My animosity was every bit as deep and personal as my affection.
So, yes, I do care if my students like me. Does doing so always coincide with the goal of educating them? I don't know. But I like them. And I want them to like me.
I figure that once I've taken advantage of their impulse to hope or believe that I'm a good sort, they will produce work that will make them proud of themselves. If they like me, I reason, they will hang in there longer, they'll finish the class, the term. They will keep going.
I can't help trying to win over recalcitrant students like Andru. Lanky, peevish and chronically tardy, Andru was my secret focus all term. When I finally got him to laugh, I knew I had a chance.
He was at the end of a tough few months - the weekend before school started, he was fired from his minimum-wage job and was kicked out of his apartment by his boyfriend. He had to return to live with his aunt, who had already kicked him out once before.
"That's tough," I told him.
I also reminded him about the great service at our college where he could get support (financial and psychological) and information.
"Not yet," he said.
One day at the end of class, he dragged himself over to my desk and said, "I don't have my assignment again."
"My ex took our printer. You're not going to accept it now, right?"
"Bring it on Monday."
"But you'll downgrade it, right?"
"Just bring it, Andru!"
He wanted me to cut him from the class. "I've missed too many classes, haven't I?" he said. (Technically true, but the letter of the law killeth, or so I've heard.)
I shrugged and said, "It's OK."
I wasn't going to dump him.
If Andru was going to break up with us, me and his classmates, it had to be because he wanted to.or because he didn't like me any more.
Bob Blaisdell teaches English at Kingsborough Community College in New York City