Learning Without Love

Do students need to like their teachers in order to learn, or are we creating conflict management issues for students down the line?

Disservicing StudentsI can’t count the number of times I’ve heard someone say that students need to love their teachers in order to learn. I’m sure that I believed the same once upon a time, but my experiences now won’t allow me to make that statement because it’s simply untrue. Not only can students learn from teachers they don’t like, but I think adults do students a great disservice when they suggest or encourage otherwise.

Every day we interact with coworkers who grind our gears or report to supervisors who would never get an invitation to our homes for dinner. Life goes on, right? We learn what we need to or collaborate to meet the goal, and then we return to our friends and family – the ones we like and love. This is our reality every day, so it perplexes me that we teach children that they don’t have to work with or learn in spite of personality clashes and disagreements with their teachers.

If school is preparation for life, why would educators and parents tell kids they have to love teachers to learn from them? That’s not how life works. Do we want our students to like or love us? Of course. That makes for great relationship building, but it is not a requirement for learning. The foundation of successful teacher-student relationships is not adoration; it is respect. Mutual respect between the teacher and student is a necessary factor. A person doesn’t need to like someone to respect them, especially when it comes to those in a position of authority.

What if you are a teacher who doesn’t like a student?

What if you’re a student who dislikes your teacher?

What if you’re a parent with a child who isn’t fond of a teacher?

What do you do?

  1. Recognize that your feelings are not uncommon. In fact, it’s quite normal to dislike someone. The reality is our personalities will not always complement someone else’s, and that is okay. It’s the beauty of diversity and human complexity.
  2. Ask yourself what it is about the person(s) that bothers you. Often times, the dislike comes from a misunderstanding or miscommunication. Students who dislike teachers because the teacher is tough should learn to accept that it is what it is. However, if the problem is something you think you (and the other person) can fix, consider making a plan to work on it.
  3. Accept that your feelings should not interfere with the learning process. Everyone has roles to play within the classroom. Students need the information that teachers possess, and teachers need the students to learn the information. Part of maturation is learning to control your emotions in a variety of situations. The classroom is the perfect place to practice.

Teacher-Student RelationshipsImpractical is demanding that a teacher rearrange his/her personality so that 25-150 students each find him/her “acceptable to learn from,” don’t you think? That’s an expectation people constantly make with very little understanding of what it implies. Students are not missing an entire school year of learning just because Mr. Scholar doesn’t give them the warm fuzzies like Mr. Action does.

While it is ideal and preferred for every student to love us, it’s a far cry to say they cannot learn from us if they don’t. Provided that teachers and students are exhibiting mutual respect in the classroom, whether they find each other likable has little to do with their ability to teach and learn. The relationship depends on both parties being clear about the classroom expectations and how they relate to one another. It is a lifelong skill to be able to keep one’s emotions in check  so as to benefit from learning situations, and the K-12 classroom is no different.

The adage, “You have to give respect to get respect,” means the same thing for students. There is a basic level of respect that educators should receive from students, especially if students expect respect in return. In that same token, there is a basic level of respect that educators must provide to students if they expect the same. The quote is cyclical. If both parties are, in fact, acting on the words in the statement, a mutual respect in the classroom will be present from the very beginning.

I’m not submitting that we should stop caring about whether students like their teachers, but I am asking that we stop suggesting that learning is impossible if there isn’t a mutual adoration present. I am asking that we accept that human complexities exist within the K-12 classroom just as they do in our adult work environments. I am asking that we acknowledge with students that love and respect do not mean the same thing and that learning is a choice.


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5 Responses

  1. I need to get a scholarship to make MA in any Economics courses. how can I get the chance??

    1. Hello,
      I would advise you to look at the university you wish to attend. Sometimes they offer scholarships and fellowships for graduate students. Also, consider searching websites like Fastweb.com.

  2. I agree with you Dr Chae . What rules in a classroom is mutual respect, not love. Students need not to love their teachers to learn what they are taught, same goes with students in tertiary institutions. I would never expect that all 500 student teachers I meet in my lecture hall must like me., but they must respect me and other students , that a conducive environment for teaching and learning does prevail. That is why they passed my subjects, although evaluate me negatively. May be they just do not like me as a person, and especially because I am a strict lecturer.

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