It Is More Important for Students to Trust Us Than to Like Us


There is a conundrum in teaching. We hold a stereotype that an excellent teacher is kindly, approachable, and openly supportive of students, yet some of the best teachers I’ve had have been aloof, unapproachable, and cantankerous. Let’s take some fictional examples. In the 1970s, The Paper Chase was a popular movie. It took place at Harvard Law School and featured Professor Kingsfield, who taught contracts to first-year law students. Kingsfield was intimidating and feared, but students deeply respected him as a teacher. Flash forward to the 1990s and the popular TV show Boy Meets World. The show featured Mr. Feeny, who could be imperious and sarcastic, but he was an admired teacher and mentor to his students. More recently, there was Professor McGonagall from the Harry Potter series, austere and standoffish but revered as a teacher. None of these teachers was particularly outgoing or affable, yet they were still excellent mentors and teachers. What explains this seeming contradiction? I think the answer is that students came to trust these teachers.

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