“Mom,” said my seventh-grade daughter Lily. “This friend at school seems to like everyone else but me.”
I know who she’s referring to but avoids using the teen’s name. I know my daughter wants to keep names private.
“’I’m sorry,” I said. “But being liked isn’t the most important thing in the world. You’re learning to be yourself.” I added: “Seventh graders can be trolls.” And: “How could someone not like you? You’re amazing.”
Despite having dispensed contradictory advice, I know my daughter will be OK. She’ll learn. Her issue is typical of a middle-schooler.
I don’t tell her that, at age 55, I still wrestle with being liked. I’m a new teacher, trying to take my own advice. I feel the ache of wanting my students to like me. My teaching role models have combined skillful, passionate teaching with kindness and brilliance. How could I ever live up to their legacies? As I teach myself to teach, I’ve held up my mentors as examples.
One day I received the first batch of feedback forms. I drank in students’ lovely sentences. Then I read some words that weren’t so lovely.
Some of my students didn’t like me!
Unconsciously, I had brought my desire to be liked into the classroom.
When I look from the head of the table just before a class, it feels like diving from a cliff, no matter how much I’ve prepared. What will happen over three hours? I’m afraid to say the wrong thing. Afraid to use the wrong pronouns or misgender someone. Afraid to forget names. I worry about the blinders of my white privilege. Whether I’m being truly inclusive. What if there’s a question to which I don’t have the answer?
But after teaching a few classes, something shifted. As a teacher, my job isn’t to be liked—although yes, I’d love to be adored the way I have loved numerous teachers.
My job as a writing teacher of youth and adults is to transmit the best and most current information I can about writing craft and to be the best writer I can. To provide a safe space. To dare to be fully myself. To share resources of which they may not be aware. To share my experiences honestly and give students a peek under the hood of a writing life. To encourage them. To continue to learn and read books like Matthew Salesses’ Craft in the Real World. To talk to other teachers and ask questions. To listen to students’ feedback—good, bad or indifferent—and use it to become a better teacher. It’s none of my business whether I’m liked or not. When I’m focused on what truly matters in the classroom, who knows what my students may learn?