You have influence. How are you using it?

by Jeff Swanson

If you are a teacher, says Jeff, you have great influence. Are you making the most of it? Jeff discusses personal habits and teaching practices that allow us to effectively inspire students to pursue beauty and goodness.

This video is composed of excerpts from Jeff’s talk “Inspire the Choir” at Teachers’ Week 2017.

Read Transcript

You have a huge influence. You’re the teacher. And so, everything you say, do the students say, “Yes, ma’am,” “Yes, sir, I’m gonna do that?” They don’t. Sometimes they look at you skeptical.

But they think those things and “My teacher said it, and it must be true.” And that can make havoc if you misuse that.

If you love music it’s gonna be hard even if you have some bad qualities for them just to say, “The teacher just loves music and I hate it.” You have an amazing influence for good or evil.

Are you nice or meanie?

You can ask a young second grader, or you can ask a senior in high school, okay, “What do you think of this teacher?” And one of the first things that comes out of their mouth is that they are nice or they’re mean. That sounds kind of wise from a second grader. It’s weird to hear it from seventeen year olds. But it’s true.

I don’t say cool. I said, “Are you nice or mean?” They—students—they do read body language, and they can tell when you’re frustrated with them. They can tell if you’re having a bad day and they don’t really feel sorry for you if you’re a meanie. And so it’s just such a blessing if you can control yourself and you’re just always pleasant. Do you have headache days? Oh, yeah, we have headache days. But you just—if you could be a kind, Christ-like person. You know, in Isaiah where it says that Christ won’t even—what is it, smother a smoking flax? He’s so gentle. And so, that makes a huge impact.

Do you know your stuff or [are you] winging it?

It does matter, okay? And sometimes we have to wing some things, I realize that, especially if you have to teach every single subject. But if they see you as an authority figure, and you just know your stuff, they respect you, which we talked about this week, and you suddenly become more likable.

It is so important for students to have a stable environment.

And I mean classroom management-wise. You can control your class through rules, and you do need to have a good structure, but if it’s so stifling students can’t breathe, it takes a long time for them to get used to it and to relate with you.

And if it’s chaos, even the coolest student hates a chaotic room. They won’t tell you that but it makes such a big difference if it’s stable.

Are you a mature leader or a cool guy?

Younger ladies and guys, it feels good to go into school and, like, in the last ten years it would have been with an Aeropostale sweatshirt, and have the girls maybe be like, “She’s kind of cool.” It kind of feels good, but they’re not respecting you.

Look the part. Dress like a man, guys. You know if you go out and play with them, and you hang out with them some and eat lunch with them and love them, it’s okay if you’re a man. So the cool thing doesn’t get us as far as we think.

They love it if you make rules and somebody breaks them and you can go back and address the issue. Who likes to go tell a child something went wrong and then their parents call you because you didn’t want to call them, and you know, it’s like, okay my weekend was just ruined. I should have just let them be naughty. But it’s so stable for the environment.

Are you a passionate leader or Mr. Blah?

You’re allowed to have bad days, okay. But, you know, if you don’t teach music, can you say, “Okay, it’s science class! We’re going to dissect a heart.” Do you love English? Diagram things! And literature! I mean do you just love a juicy book?

You all are so special, okay. If you’re a little quiet, that is special if that’s you. If you kind of have some crazy times at home by yourself, can you bring that into the classroom? They love it! Okay? You are so special. Bring out all your special things, and be passionate.

Are you a good hygiene guy or are you Mr. Coffee Stink Breath?

I jus remember sometimes teachers coming up and they’re like, “Okay, let me look at your paper.” And you’re just like [coughs]. And you can’t do it because you love them and respect them.

Be neat and clean.

Again, I’m doing this because I want your influence to be there.

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