Asking students if their teacher likes them instead of if they like their teacher has a few benefits, especially when trying to make a connection with students. In my last post, I explored one of three answers you may get - "Yes, my teacher likes me." In this next part of this series, I address the all too common, "I don't know."
"I don't know" may indicate a few realities. One is that the student truly does not know. They haven't thought about the relationship in any meaningful way. Another possibility is that they may think they are not liked, but are concerned about admitting it. Another possible reason for "I don't know" might be a reluctance to talk about feelings. This final reason might be more observable in boys, but both boys and girls can struggle with expressing feelings at one point or another. However, no matter what the reason is, an "I don't know" is usually a sign that there is good progress to be made in this conversation. In other words, do not let "I don't know" end the discussion.
So, what can you do if you hear "I don't know" that will help move the conversation forward? Here are a few suggestions.
1. Score it
You can ask the student to score the relationship with the teacher using either letter grades like school (A, B, C, D, F) or using a rating scale (1 to 5 with 5 being excellent). The answer, once given, can be explored further with questions like, "Explain why you gave it a B instead of a C?" or "You gave it a 2, why not a 1? What would be a 3?"
The answers should provide some good information about how the student is thinking.
2. Create a safe zone
For the student who is afraid to open up, a safe zone is critical. Explain to the student that there are no wrong answers and that their honesty will help you support them better. Once you set the parameters of the safe zone, you must stick to them or risk losing trust - which will make future conversations very difficult.
3. Get physical
It is amazing to me how much better students open up and talk about difficult things when they are moving around. One of my favorite strategies to use here is to walk around campus and invite them to join me. At home, you can do the same thing. Go for a walk, join in on a task, shoot a few baskets, go bike riding, etc. Sometimes the pressure to have an answer is relieved by activity.
4. Role play
One final idea to get past "I don't know" is to ask the student to pretend to be the teacher and tell you what they (the teacher) think of their relationship with you (the student). The question might sound something like this, "If you were Mrs. X, what would you say about how you fell about (name of the student)?"
"Does your teacher like you?" is a powerful question that has potential to provide very useful information about the critical student/teacher relationship. So far, I have explored two of three possible answers. The final answer to explore is, "No. My teacher does not like me." That will be the topic of my next post in this series.