Lesson #1: Students do what they want.
Lesson #2: Students will not do what I want unless they are convinced that it will be better for them to do as I ask than to refuse.
But our perception of the importance of personal appeal is overrated because our experience of its effectiveness is skewed. Outside of a classroom, people who dislike you will simply avoid you; you will generally not have to tell them what to do. Within a classroom, during the course of a career, a teacher will have many students who may simply not enjoy his or her way of doing things; a teacher must nevertheless win their compliance. Furthermore, personal appeal is no guarantee of compliance anyway. Students may like a teacher for all sorts of reasons and will still neglect to do their homework.
Teaching is distinct from most management-type jobs. Typically, in a job where a manager might encounter resistance, an employee is paid for their work, which is incentive enough to elicit compliance (or resignation). And in a club or sport or other voluntary-type activity, participants choose to show up, and the inherit appeal of the program motivates them to comply.
Students, of course, are not paid. Nor do they attend school for the sheer joy of it. Usually students can think of fifty hundred billion better things to do than go to class, including staring at the wall and clipping their fingernails. Add into the mix an early morning, cafeteria food, and homework, and school in general starts to look like a pretty tough sell.
To earn student compliance, a teacher must construct a web of understandings and consequences to support every directive given in a classroom. This is a web that takes years to create, one thread at a time, mending holes when a directive falls through, slowly strengthening it with new threads every year.
The strongest and most useful strands are ones I find vocalizing regularly. A recitation:
- I don't give you very much homework, but what I do give you is important. If you do not do the homework, you will not do well on the quiz. (And I show them how my words are backed by evidence)
- I treat you with respect by not calling you names, not screaming at you when I am angry. If you lose your temper at me, you can expect to be ignored and/or referred.
- I have a good attitude about seeing thirty five of your faces at 7:15 in the morning. If you have a bad attitude, you can either keep it to yourself or you can take it with you into the hallway..
- I listen to you. If you do not listen to me, then you will not do any activities that allow talking, until I feel that you have proven otherwise.
In a way, it is not unlike politics. If I ever leave education, maybe I will run for president.