3 Things You Think Are “Cool” That Actually Make Middle School Kids Hate You

24 Apr
Cool emoticon

Cool emoticon (Photo credit: wstera2)

We all want to be cool. Often, even when we are the most experienced, knowledgeable, and confident person in the room (as we often are–though not always–in middle school classrooms) we still want our kids to like us. This is why we often do three very stupid things in the hopes of making ourselves more appealing to our kids:

1. Being sarcastic. We all have vague memories of a high school teacher who was sort of bitter and sarcastic, and we remember thinking he was entertaining.  He reminded us of that cool teacher from TV, right? So if we’re sarcastic in class, that makes us cool, right?

Wrong–especially with kids under the age of 14. If think back further, we remember that,while it was sometimes  funny when teachers made fun of historical figures, we never liked listening to jokes we didn’t understand, and we REALLY didn’t like feeling stupid or dismissed in class. Kids 14 years old and younger largely don’t understand sarcasm yet, particularly students from families that don’t care for that kind of humor (which are common, especially in inner city areas). Being sarcastic around kids who don’t understand sarcasm, or who feel attacked by it, can undermine trust and make you seem out of touch with their sense of humor.

2. Telling personal stories in class. Again, we all remember that high school teacher who shared personal stories about their crazy college days or  their first marriage. We remember, vaguely, wanting to stick around in that teacher’s classroom at lunchtime. It made us feel cool. So if we tell stories about ourselves it makes us cool and easy to relate to, right?

Again: wrong. While telling high school students the occasional tidbit about your life may get them to like you (though it is equally likely to make you look pathetic or needy), it DOES NOT WORK WITH MIDDLE SCHOOL KIDS. Young adolescents are so consumed with themselves (remember how important that zit seemed at the time?) that they generally are not interested in the lives and feelings of adults. Talking too much about yourself is more likely to make you seem irrelevant than it is to make you look cool. The only exception to this case is if your story about your life directly relates to your students’ lives. (For example, sharing your acceptance or rejection letters from literary agents with your writing class could actually be very cool and informative.)

3. Giving easy assignments. New teachers often think that the easier an assignment is, the more likely it is that kids will be excited to do it. Not only is this wrong, it’s dangerous, and it can lead to lowered expectations and poor performance from your students. Think about it: would you want to play a game where you were absolutely guaranteed to win every single time? No! It would be boring. Likewise, your kids don’t want easy assignments all the time—they want you to give them a challenge.

Have you ever tried to seem cool for your kids and had it backfire (or work)? I’d love to hear your story!

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7 Responses to “3 Things You Think Are “Cool” That Actually Make Middle School Kids Hate You”

  1. Lee Reed April 24, 2013 at 1:47 pm #

    Reblogged this on Sub Notes and commented:
    Hardly a day goes by that I am not called “the coolest sub in the school” by someone, yet that has never been my goal. As a matter of fact, I’m not sure I am not bothered a bit by that moniker. It’s fine being “cool” but only if you are meeting the needs of your students and the expecations of the teachers you are temporarily replacing. In the article below, author Catherine Killingsworth tells us three things we can do that may seem cool, but will ultimately cause us to lose respect. That is certainly a price too high to pay for coolness.

  2. jo April 24, 2013 at 2:40 pm #

    Amen, sister! Every new teacher should read and heed this advice.

  3. heybates April 25, 2013 at 1:46 pm #

    I think the biggest thing to note with telling personal stories is the objective of the teacher in telling the story. If you are telling the story to seem like a cool adult, then it is going to have the opposite effect every time. You aren’t ever going to seem cool.

    But, if your objective is not yourself, but helping a student, I think a personal story can go far. The difference is the way you relate the story to the student. I know I had a great dialogue with one of my students, who wrote a very thoughtful personal essay about watching one of his friends die after being shot in the face. This took amazing courage to share with me. We ended up talking about my cousin who died of an accidental gun shot wound, (because her brother had left his loaded shotgun in the corner.) My student continued opening up after this dialogue, because he knew I wasn’t pitying him; being able to relate to each other about a shared experience really helped him, and some of my other students, open up.

    I’ve had similar conversations, and have seen teachers around me do the same, time and time again. And I’ve seen it make such a difference with their students. There is a difference between telling a cool story for personal gain, and listening to a student and relating to them with a personal story. Because you’re right, there was nothing I hated more in middle school than a teacher reveling over their glory days in class. But a teacher talking to me about how she felt when her own grandmother died really showed me she was listening to me and my feelings, and not just talking to hear herself speak.

  4. tchistorygal May 16, 2013 at 6:59 pm #

    Good tips. When I first started teaching and subbing, the worst classes were for teachers with practices like the ones you mentioned. Sarcasm is the worst things EVER for kids! Thanks for sharing! 🙂

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