What role does perception play in the race for the coveted “nice teacher” title? More than one would expect, it seems. There are different levels of niceness. How much “niceness” is required is based on the students’ agenda? Not all agenda are positive. If it is negative, then a twisted source of “niceness” may be the result.
The teacher has to be aware and attuned when the professional sense of niceness has taken a negative, arbitrary slant. He or she has to take a stand against such perversion in order to withhold the standards of teaching and learning. It is my experience that when some students have unfounded biases towards a subject and even the teacher, they do not take their responsibilities seriously. Yet they expect a passing grade and the teacher to be “nice” enough to understand that.
It is as if they are doing the teacher a favor by being in his or her class. As a French teacher, many students see the subject as irrelevant and being a native teacher only adds to this level of condescension and debauchery. At the outset there is a negative balance in the professional teacher-student rapport requirement which stems from the general student perception. How can a teacher change a perception that has been built over a long period of time through personal values and beliefs, society’s standards and environmental factors? The teacher has limited time with a class and he needs to spend that time within the scope of established professional rapport and guard against becoming a doormat for superficial “niceness”.
I recalled standing by the door fulfilling the routine of greeting the students as they come in and I had to make a decision about being nice. The late bell had rung and this student had to say her goodbyes in a rather flagrant way just a few steps beyond the door. Should I close the door and be perceived as insensitive or should I be courteous and wait? Rules are rules, right? There was already so much tension which stemmed from this arbitrary expectation that I should be nicer than the average teacher, so I made the latter decision. The student’s response as she was strolling in late was: “you are so nice” with a huge grin on her face.
This student’s willingness to test my “niceness” level and other similar behaviors demonstrate that teachers in general are not on equal footing. This is not within our control for the most part because their perspective is based on their experiences, prejudices and biases. In this situation, she expected me to condone her inappropriate behavior and even be courteous about it yet she would not expect the same from another one of her teacher. Thus, kindness, understanding and how one looks and sounds are taken for weakness and the teacher falls prey to doormat syndrome. Nice is as nice deep. It can be skin deep as in superficial or it can be more profound and help you to impact teaching and learning.
Can I afford to be “her” nice and still maintains the standards of teaching? The answer is unfortunately, no. My choices are limited due to the fact that there are certain things that I can’t change. I can’t change who I am, my physical features and their preliminary perception of me. However I can build a reputation over time. I can create a new version of ” niceness” based on my teaching style, my personality and my values and put on a relentless, selling campaign. This will be a hard sell because it is difficult to change mindsets if not nearly impossible.
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