By Adam Stout
As a 2nd year teacher, I have learned a lot and have a lot left to learn. So, take this post for what it is – the musings of a new teacher in the trenches. Lately, one of the lessons I am learning is the importance of establishing credibility with students.
Bottom line: Your students need to believe you. You need to mean what you say and say what you mean (sorry for the cliché). You need to follow through with commitments and expectations. You need credibility.
I recently realized how important this is because of my high school Chinese II class. Early in the year, I announced a weekly journal assignment and passed out the pages for it. One student asked how long we would be doing the journal. When she did so, one boy (a student with whom I have a strong rapport) said quietly to a classmate, “Yeah, right. We’ll do this for like two days and we’ll never see it again.” He didn’t say this to me and he didn’t mean to be disrespectful. He didn’t even know I heard. But, this was a huge red flag to me. The problem became painfully clear to me when I read the November 25, 2014 Dilbert cartoon. I had a credibility problem.
I did not realize how bad it was. Too many incomplete projects and unfinished units simply led me to think, “Some of that worked and some didn’t. I’m learning as I go; we’ll try something else – a new direction.”
It led students to think, “He doesn’t finish anything.”
Even more concerning was the flashback that came later that day. I had a false start to my teaching career – my first position was teaching 7th grade Chinese in Memphis, TN. For various reasons, things were going horribly. One problem I was having was managing student behavior. They simply would not do what I asked in the hallways and during slow times in class. The principal met with me and said, “Sounds to me like you have some students who don’t believe you are going to do what you say you are going to do.” He was right. In trying to be nice, I failed to enforce my classroom rules. Because the students did not take me (or my threats) seriously, they did not perform.
So I realized, as a teacher, if I say I am going to do something, then I had better do it! So, this year I have been focusing more on following-through on commitments, providing quick turnaround on assignments, and avoiding over-committing. What I’m seeing is that students are completing assignments more often and doing higher quality work. There are, of course, other elements to building credibility, but this is what I’m focusing on and it’s working.
Adam Stout teaches Chinese Language and Culture at the high school and middle school levels in Prairie du Chien, Wisconsin.