Why Caring Too Much Can Make You A Less Effective Teacher

Why Caring Too Much Can Make You A Less Effective TeacherTeaching is important, to be sure.

But if you’re not careful, this fact can weigh heavily.

It can cause you to wrap an unhealthy amount of your identity into your job. It can cause you to be distracted around your friends and family.

It can cause you to care too much.

And when you care too much, not only are you wrung out, preoccupied, and no fun to be around, but you make mistakes that make you a less effective teacher.

You become personally offended when students misbehave. You become irritable, easily frustrated, and less approachable.

You become so invested in your students’ success, so pressured by administrative powers, that you begin doing for them what only they can do for themselves.

The truth is, the most effective teachers maintain a level of professional distance—from their students, their classroom, and even their school.

They view teaching as a two-way street. Meaning, they give their best for their students. They teach high-interest lessons. They build leverage and influence through their consistent pleasantness and likability. They create a learning experience their students want to be a part of.

But they also expect the best in return, which manifests itself in everything they do.

From enforcing consequences dispassionately to giving directions one time to their reluctance to kneel down and reteach individuals what was taught to the entire class minutes before . . . their actions announce to the world their deep and abiding belief in their students.

You see, when you take on what are your students’ responsibilities, even emotionally, they’ll be left with the message that they have a free pass.

So they shrug in response to your urgent exhortations. They ignore your requests for quiet. They listen only when convenient. They daydream and side-talk and count tiles on the ceiling.

It never occurs to them that they’re sitting in a sacred place of learning or that they desperately need what you have to offer. The result is a stressed-out teacher and a class full of students who just don’t care.

In the most effective classrooms, responsibilities are clearly separate and defined.

The teacher does their job well, providing everything their students need to be successful, then hands the onus to do the work, discuss the book, perform the experiment, and solve for x in full over to their students.

Your job is to teach, inspire, and hold accountable—which is completely in your control. When you focus your physical and emotional energy on these three core responsibilities, and determine to turn the rest over to your students, your stress will all but disappear.

At the same time, the whole vibe of your classroom will change. The winds of complacency and apathy will die out. Balance will be restored to the kingdom.

Your students will feel the burden of responsibility for learning and behaving settle upon their shoulders, where it belongs. Their respect for you will soar. Their sense of independence will swell. Rapport will come easy—light and effortless.

Your heavy mood, your hurt, and your disappointment will lift and dissipate into the heavens. You’ll have the energy you need to create your dream class. And you’ll finally be able to leave school at school.

Now both you and your students will possess the same look: Happy yet determined. Calm yet filled with purpose. Fulfilled yet resolute.

The way it’s supposed to be.

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19 Responses to Why Caring Too Much Can Make You A Less Effective Teacher

  1. Joyce October 4, 2014 at 6:49 pm #

    I get frustrated because it seems like my students are getting too many warnings each day, when I feel the amount should be going down. When I finally realized that I am probably the first teacher to make them responsible for their behavior, my frustration was lifted! I work the plan every day, and know I will see improvement in the near future. When I feel the frustration begin to rise again, I tell myself, “Work the plan, work the plan!” Thanks for your inspiring articles.

    • Michael Linsin October 5, 2014 at 7:40 am #

      You’re welcome, Joyce!

      Michael

  2. Emily October 7, 2014 at 7:39 am #

    Michael, I believe this may go against everything in, if not current teaching philosophy, current teaching culture, which would have you believe that if you aren’t living at the school, staying up till 3 AM creating another way to beg them to learn, or making human sacrifices on your students’ behalf, you’re not even a decent teacher. To go and suggest teachers expect a certain amount of learning on their students’ end! The horror! (sarcasm, by the way, this was a fine article).

    • Michael Linsin October 7, 2014 at 4:27 pm #

      Ha! Thanks Emily!

      Michael

  3. Lyn October 9, 2014 at 8:19 pm #

    I find your article most enlightening! I am a mentor to High school students who are taking online classes for college credit, and for students who are in high school and are enrolled in a m-w-f class where a college professor delivers instruction in the classroom, and Tuesday/Thursday those students are with me in the media center. Overall I have roughly 20-30 students in each class, 5 hours/day where one of those hours I have close to 50 students. The students who are enrolled in the online classes are dedicated to their studies and have proven time and again how to effectively manage their time. However, the students who are coming in on Tuesdays and Thursdays are not applying themselves to their studies. They are often overly social, texting, lying on furniture and being distespectful to others, and to the media center environment. I do care about these students, however they are not behaving as ‘advanced’ students should. They feel as if the rules shouldn’t apply because they are taking college based courses, even though they are still in high school. It’s an interesting mix of students. They often say that they feel like they should be treated like college students and be allowed to do what they want with their time. However, they are not behaving like responsible college students when they are not following the rules. I asked the students today how a college student should be treated, and they replied “to do what we want when we want.” I told the kids to silence their phones and put them away and out of sight (school rules) and they had a problem with this. It clearly states in their school handbook that I have the authority to take their phones away from them if they don’t follow the rules. With technology branching out more and more into our educational system, I’m curious to know how school districts and teachers view cell phone use at school and in classrooms, and what effective strategies have you found to be most effective in limiting cell phone use in the classroom?

    • Michael Linsin October 10, 2014 at 6:16 am #

      Hi Lyn,

      If their handbook specifies that you can take away their cell phones if used in class, then you take them away. It’s as simple as clearly communicating your expectations, then holding them accountable.

      Michael

  4. Naomi Loney October 14, 2014 at 2:59 am #

    Michael,

    Our school has a strict cellphone policy which works well. The rule is that cell phones must be trned off or on silent and in the students schoolbag during lessons. If any teacher (math teacher, English teacher,etc.) catches a student using a phone during a lesson he/she takes it from the student and turns it into the office where it is recorded and kept by the office.. The first time any teacher takes the phone, the student gets it back at the end of the school day. The second time, it is lock in the school safe for three days before the student can have it back. The third time it is taken, the student loses his phone for TEN days. Very few students ever get to ten days. It is effective, it works and the parents support it.

    Naomi

  5. Paul December 20, 2014 at 11:14 am #

    I couldn’t disagree more! Caring too much? No such thing! You certainly can get wrapped up too tight if you don’t practice relaxation techniques, eat well and get plenty of rest. But, to suggest that caring too much is a problem is absurd!
    I would argue that most don’t care enough! They aren’t constructing exciting and challenging lesson plans. They are not engaged enough with the students. Too many substitutes or district meetings. Too much stress (which is one hundred percent self induced), or other factors.
    Caring is what the profession is all about period.

  6. Steve February 5, 2015 at 6:13 pm #

    Paul,

    He means caring too much about the things you can’t control, like the students’ responsibilities that he delineated in this post.

    It is also a title that is intentionally provocative to cause people to click on it.

    You’re taking it too literal. Of course you are supposed to care, but caring about the wrong things will cause a melt down.

  7. Ivancica November 21, 2015 at 9:42 am #

    After reading your article, I find myself doing exactly too much caring and having challenging behavior that is not favorable to whole class.

    How do I start. It is thanksgiving week. I want to come back and have class in new order. Is it possible. This is my fourth year teaching in high school. I want to grow and see my class flourish

    Michael, what do you suggest the first steps to be.

    Thank you

    • Michael Linsin November 21, 2015 at 11:11 am #

      Hi Ivancica,

      The key is to have a definitive plan for holding students accountable who stray from your rules. Teach it to your class, then prove to them you will follow it. I’m hoping to have a classroom management plan guide or ebook that addresses the unique needs of high school teachers available by the end of next summer.

      Michael

  8. Lauren February 3, 2016 at 5:01 pm #

    What to do when you either don’t feel safe enforcing consequences or know that they won’t be followed and engaging with rule breaking students will take up too much time away from the rest of the class – but you also know that any follow up consequences on admin’s part either won’t be administered or are also ineffective?

    Ex: I would never reach to grab a child’s phone – physical assault would ensue – when I tell a student to put phone away or hand it over the slew of cursing starts – phone doesn’t get put away plus a bunch of time is wasted. If I ever somehow did manage to pick up a phone, I can only pick up as much as I can hold on my body until delivering to office – if I put into my desk it will get stolen by other students (as my personal belongings have gotten stolen) and Admin has told us that WE are held accountable and have to pay for students’ phones that get stolen out of teacher desks. Slew of cursing from parents begins.

    I had a shoe thrown at me by another student. When I refused to give it back, he came after me, and in those seconds it became clear to me that he was in an “aggressive” mode, so I told him to return to his seat or I would press charges. He came and wrenched the shoe out of my hand anyway, but not before calling me a bitch 5 times and threatening me for putting my “dirty hands” on his stuff.

    FYI – I have left this campus (as well as 4 other teachers that I know of – all before Christmas break) Consequences are only consequences if students actually do them – I had students walk into class threatening me not to give them consequences or they would really “have no chill” – when you did tell them they had a consequence not only did they not do it but it caused a riot scene.

    How do you make sense of this? I really cared about those kids and wanted to teach them – but I felt like I was babysitting – and doing poorly at that too.

    • Michael Linsin February 4, 2016 at 7:59 am #

      Hi Lauren,

      Indeed, your personal safety is most important. If you’re at a high school that has lost control, and provides no accountability on the administrative level, then you have to modify your approach in your own classroom. (This topic will have to wait for another day.) There are schools that are so far gone that they need a complete overhaul to get back on track. Until they do, it makes teaching effectively in such an environment a daunting task.

      Michael

  9. Maja August 29, 2016 at 2:28 am #

    Hi Michael
    I completely agree with what you say here. Students are responsible for their own learning (as every person is for their actions real life).

    I have a colleague, though, who over-does it, I would say. The marks of her students are very bad although she tries very hard to teach them. She’s very very strict with marks, so about half of the students barely pass the exams, and 1-3 students per class have an excellent mark. Students are very demotivated and mostly don’t even try to retake their test.

    The problem is she thinks she cares very much for students by teaching them a lot but she also thinks they’re bad and don’t give her feedback i.e. don’t study. She says I am a bad teacher because she thinks I don’t care enough whether my students will learn anything.

    How can I explain this to her?

    Thanks
    Maja

    • Michael Linsin August 29, 2016 at 7:41 am #

      Hi Maja,

      Respectfully, I think you should focus on what you can control and not concern yourself with your colleague’s methods or opinions regarding your teaching.

      Michael

      • Maja August 30, 2016 at 6:08 am #

        Thanks 🙂

        Maja

  10. Grace Malve November 27, 2016 at 9:55 pm #

    How do I hand the students their responsibility? I am a first year teacher and sometimes I feel that when I give the students accountability they just blow it in my face.

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  1. Four Keys to an Impactful Teaching Career — Part 3 — The Student Level | Teaching the Core - October 18, 2014

    […] essentially says that teachers have three responsibilities: to teach, to inspire, and to hold accountable. He says the things we all know but don’t think we can say or haven’t put words to […]

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