If you are having difficulties in your interactions with a student, there is likely one thing you haven’t considered – you might be the problem. Scary thought, isn’t it? Admitting that you might be the one causing conflict.

It happens much more frequently than teachers want to admit, often without us even being aware of it. Largely, it comes across as power struggles. You know the ones – a student questions an assignment, a test answer, or anything along those lines, and immediately you go on the defensive. Most of the time, your response comes down to, “I’m right because I’m the teacher.” Students are labelled as trouble-makers or smart-asses, and you remain irked by them for the next day, week, or however long. How dare they question you and challenge your authority! But, in asking those questions, aren’t students doing what we want (or what we should want) them to do? Thinking critically, developing well reasoned arguments, finding supporting evidence, all of those are skills we are (or should be) demanding of our students. But, instead of engaging with students, using the opportunities presented to help them refine their skills, and, dare I say actually taking a moment to reflect on our own work, we let ego get in the way and shut the situation down. Students end up feeling like their voice isn’t heard, can be quite hurt by that, and will find ways to push back, to express those feelings. And, thus, the vicious cycle of a power struggle is born.

Other times, we feel like students just aren’t being reasonable. Why do they insist on making foolish choices? Why can’t they see the “smart” solution that is right in front of them? In my readings over the years, I came across the claim that the part of the brain that keeps people from making foolish choices doesn’t fully develop until the mid 20s. Well, that explains a few things. But, even if that factoid isn’t true, what is is the fact that you are the adult. You have experience behind you that your students don’t have, which means you are looking at a given problem differently than they are, often in a way they won’t be able to grasp for years. Don’t blame them for not being able to do something you’ve been working on for years. And, don’t forget hormones – they’re going to reek havoc on anybody!

One final thought on this topic – the things that bug us most about others are the things we don’t like about ourselves. Chances are, if you are regularly complaining about a particular trait in your students, say stubbornness, procrastination, or anything else, you are probably trying to work on that yourself. Keep working on it, but realize that your students likely aren’t ready to. They’ll get there in their own time, just like you did.

So, the next time you and a student are butting heads, stop and think for a moment – are you the problem?

Coming Soon: Practice Makes Progress Part 1: Curb Your Perfectionism