Teacher’s Corner: The Battle Between Being Nice and Strict in the Classroom

As I become more aware of my surroundings, and myself, it becomes clear that a uniform way of behaving does not exist between teachers. Yes, there some common grounds within a school to try and create a specific culture, but even those common grounds are personalized. So my question becomes one that has been asked more and more frequently as we witness the evolution in the new generation of students: how can we, as teachers, best connect with the students of today to create more receptive students in the school as a whole?

I have a couple theories to this question, but first let’s examine the more traditional approach taken by some of the more seasoned teachers. As I was going through my teacher training, I was advised by some to not smile until December of the school year. I was supposed to maintain a strict personality to gain the respect of the students as well as the control of my classroom. My first thought to this statement was “hmmm that sounds nothing like me”. To not smile for months was not something I was ready to embrace for a few reasons. First of all, the couple of teachers that didn’t smile when I was in high school were, let’s just say, not as respected by the student body as those who smiled. Secondly, there have been numerous studies done at universities with definite evidence which concludes that smiling, even a forced smile, can drastically improve your state of being throughout the day by lowering your cortisol levels. I won’t get much more into the science of this because it would turn into a scientific journal, but I prefer to be happy and smiling as opposed to not smiling and potentially less happy, which may affect my performance.

This brings me to the other kind of teacher, which is the “always super nice and accommodating” teacher. This can be a very dangerous and slippery slope if not measured as we go through the years as educators. In my experience, I have also encountered my fair share of educators who are too nice. This turns them into the “pushover educators,” which students smell immediately and realize that they can get away with much more than usual. To an extent, this can be a disservice to the students because the lack of accountability and structure will eradicate any responsibility they had in that classroom (for most students), and performance will drop.

Finding a middle ground is one of the most difficult challenges in the world of education for class management in the K-12 setting. Some educators never reach this because they either fall too far on one side or too far right on the “nice” scale. I cannot say that one method outperforms the other, but I can tell you that the blend of both can lead to a stress free environment for both educators and students. I am personally still striving to reach this unicornian blend of classroom personality, but I have found that being open with the students and allowing them to get to know who I am as a person allows for that bond to be built between humans. If such bond is created, the students’ receptiveness to the educator immensely increases. Since my goal is to enlighten these students as much as possible, I need them to be open to my words and that cannot happen if I don’t have their respect and attention, which can most of the time be gained with a simple smile. As of now the conclusion to this question will be open, but I will come back to this topic and update you with both good and bad experiences from the different methods of interacting with the students. Until then, let’s try to keep our cortisol levels down.

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Isaac Alvarado

Isaac Alvarado

Isaac Alvarado is a first-generation Mexican American. He grew up in East Los Angeles where he witnessed many inequities in access, even as a young boy. His parents were committed to providing him and his sisters an environment that was conducive to their success and relocated their family to a more residential area in Norwalk. There ,he attended Santa Fe Springs High School and went off to pursue a college degree at UC Riverside. While in college, he experienced the hardships that came with being a first-gen college student: the difficult transition form high school to college, the culture shock, the financial challenges that stemmed from tuition hikes, and the reality that he was unprepared for the college rigor. It was those same experiences that led him to graduate and seek opportunities working with under-resourced communities. He went off to attain his single-subject Spanish credentials from Biola University, where he found his passion for education. He currently serves as a substitute at a local unified school district, where he hopes to continue learning the ropes of serving as both an educator and advocate for students often lost under the cracks. He looks forward to getting back in the classroom full-time in the Fall, as he feels that more than ever, students are in need of positive male role models whom they can identify with and view as mentors.

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