Why Students Should Like You
October 14, 2010, four people found this website with the search phrase “getting students to like you.” I posted a question to a LinkedIn group to which I belong. I asked those in the group if they thought is was important for students to like their instructors.
The feedback to date can be summarized as follows:
- It is more enjoyable for the instructor if students like him/her;
- It is more important that student’s like the course; and
- Students may be more motivated to learn if they like either the instructor or the course.
This seems like stating the obvious, but sometimes the obvious is not … well .. obvious.
A Lesson for College Instructors
Students are more motivated if they like their class. They may like the subject or they may like the teacher or they may like both the subject and the teacher. Logically, it would seem that students who like both would be the most motivated.
I have read several articles recently that address student motivation. Most researchers agree that intrinsic motivation is the most important factor for student learning.
Some academics believe that self efficacy is the most crucial factor. This would explain how students stay motivated in online university courses such as an online accounting degree when the instructors are not present physically.
Student learning is paramount. So, isn’t the real goal for college instructors to get students to like the course no matter how that comes about? Shouldn’t instructors help struggling students gain confidence in themselves and their ability to learn?
Changing College Students’ Attitudes
It is a good idea for instructors to attempt to get students to like them. If students come into the course disliking the subject, a well thought of instructor may be able change their attitudes.
This seems like common sense, but the basis for my contention is rooted in psychology and attitude change theory. It comes from the work of Fritz Heider in 1944. Heider posited what he called “Balance Theory” to explain how people form and change their attitudes. The principle is simple and best illustrated with a few examples:
Positively Balanced System – George loves history and he likes his history instructor very much. It is fair to assume that his instructor likes history too, which means all is in balance. There is no motivation for George to change his feelings about history.
Negatively Balanced System – Christopher dislikes his English literature teacher who loves Chaucer, and Christopher particularly dislikes Chaucer. The fact that Christopher dislikes both his instructor and Chaucer is consistent. Certainly, someone he dislikes is not going to change his opinion.
Unbalanced System – June likes her math instructor, but she dislikes algebra. This is not consistent. The system is not in balance. Perhaps her instructor can help her gain an appreciation for algebra. If June really likes her instructor, she will be open to advice.
Heider contended that people strive to be in balance. So, it is reasonable to assume that a likable instructor can have an impact and his or her students’ attitudes. I have seen this happen. I remember the math instructor who could hardly hold back the tears when she told me about a math-phobic student who struggled the first couple weeks. The instructor tutored her and encouraged her. Not only did the students grades improve, this young lady who was scared to death of math now wanted to be a math teacher.
© 2010 Paul A. Hummel, Ed.D.
October 21, 2010