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Why are you so nice?

My first few years of teaching were rough.  I had no idea what I was doing.  There was blood in the water and the sharks were circling.  I was good with the content but my classroom management was less than stellar.  We were a new school with very green teachers and most of us were just trying to keep our heads above the water.  If it wasn't for Ted I never would have survived.  He was the only one of us with more than 5 minutes experience in a classroom. Sometimes I would ask him to stay with my class for a few minutes so I could go in the hall and cry. And, to add insult to injury, I looped with those kids for 3 years, so every mistake I made as a newbie followed me for 3 years.  Not for one second do I blame the kids though.  It was all me and it was awful.  I felt like I was failing them.

One day during my first or second year, I was talking to the principal and her advice to me was to be more of a (warning, bad word ahead) bitch.  That is actually what she said to me.  I was floored.  This was her expert advice?   If this was the only way for me to earn the respect of my students and control in my classroom, I was definitely doomed. Anyone that knows me knows that bitch is not something that I do. Maybe that was how she ran her classroom but it certainly wasn't the way I was going to run mine. Fast forward 10 years and 2 schools and it's still not how I run my classroom.  And somehow I still manage to control the kids quite well.  Why be mean when I can get even better outcomes from being nice?

Last week something interesting happened.  One of my students raised her hand and asked "Why are you so nice?" Apparently, having a "nice" teacher was something new for her.  I was a little surprised by the question.  So, I asked the class if their behavior is worse and if they do less work when they are with a teacher they consider "mean".  They all said no.  So, why be mean? It takes too much energy to be mean.  You catch more bees with honey. And are there really that many "mean" teachers that I am something of an anomaly? I've always felt that my job is not just to teach science but to help grow people.  I hope that in addition to helping them to love science I can also show them that being nice can get you everywhere you want to go in life.

When teachers are new, one of the pieces of advice they often receive is to not smile for the first few months of class so that they can show the students that they are tough. Why is this a thing? I smile and joke with my students from the moment they walk in the door.  Too often we think that nice also means for naive.  If you make it clear to you students from the very first day that you are by no mean naive and that there are clear consequences for unacceptable behavior (which I like to call shenanigans), then there is no reason not to be nice.  Being nice doesn't mean they aren't going to get called out on the shenanigans and in trouble for making the wrong choices. If you establish this from the first day then nice is something that can work quite well.

One of the best things a student ever said to me was that I was "nice mean". Basically, what he meant was that I was a kind person but I didn't take nonsense that was uncalled for. This is the atmosphere that works best for me in my space. I want students to feel comfortable in my space but they need to know that certain things are unacceptable.  And the longer I am in the classroom, the better I get at this.  I all comes back to just be nice.

Just be nice everyone.  I promise you'll be happier for it and hopefully your students will emulate your behavior.


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