If you’re anything like me, the thought of confrontation can make you feel really uncomfortable because you want everyone to have a good view of you. You’re a decent person, right? You’re easy-going; not an unnecessary hard-arse. You want your inner goodness to come across and if people don’t see that, they’re not seeing the ‘real you’, so you try to convince them that you are nice and lovely and all things sweet. The problem is, as a teacher, you being a good guy has got nothing to do with your job description.
Don’t get me wrong, positive relationships are the oil that keeps the school machine running smoothly. You might not be there to be liked, but you’re not going to get ANYWHERE being hated. The need for positive relationships though, do not override the necessity of BOUNDARIES. And here’s the thing about boundaries – they are absolutely needed and they will (in the beginning) make sure you are not liked by the children that are the most difficult.
The backgrounds of the most difficult children are sometimes heartbreaking. Sometimes, it’s not the background, but the child’s chosen, methodical decisions to behave in certain ways that show no respect for any boundaries and rules whatsoever. With these children, your natural inclination might be to show them that you’re on their side and you only want what’s best for them by letting certain things slide (mainly their lack of respect for you) and you might think that given enough time, they will come round, and when that happens, you can start to enforce your boundaries with them, which in your mind, you couldn’t do in the beginning because they’re not going to listen anyway. Here’s my advice to you: don’t be a sucker.
The boundaries you’re uncomfortable enforcing are the very same ones that they NEED because the chances are, they aren’t getting them elsewhere from the other people in their lives whose duty it is to care for them. You being the one to let things slide doesn’t make you the ONE good guy in their life – it makes you the LATEST in a long line of adults that’s unwilling to set and enforce standards for them. It is your professional duty to do so. You need to be the potentially ONE (if not only) person in their life showing them that their conduct isn’t acceptable; that there are consequences for behaviours and actions; and that there are higher standards to live up to. If no one else has done that for them, is your supposed leniency really helping them? No.
Enforcing boundaries on people who are otherwise used to running rampant over others will put you in the cross-hairs of difficult and defiant behaviour, but part of our jobs is being comfortable in that position and having the strategies to manage it. Your role then is not to be liked by letting standards slip, but rather be RESPECTED for calmly and consistently enforcing high standards on every young person under your care. Once you’ve accepted that fact, it’s time to load up your toolkit of strategies you’re going to employ, because you will have battles ahead of you. However, if enough adults surrounding that child’s daily routine do the same thing, the child will operate under the CULTURE of high expectations and high standards and will get used to their behaviour being called out and consequences issued. Some children will rise to that culture, and some will reject it, but your job stays the same regardless, so don’t worry yourself about how much you’re liked by your students. That’s not your measuring stick. Worry about to what extent you are contributing to the culture of consistent high standards in your school, because that is part of your job.