Should Teachers Intimidate their Students?

Estimated reading time: 4 minutes

No. 

Plain and simple.

That’s all there is to it.

Here’s why:

Students need to be able to trust their teachers.

This is the first on the list for a reason. 

As a teacher, you can never be 100% certain of where each of your students is coming from. Many young people have trouble at home or trauma that means that they are lacking in adults that they can trust. Many times I have become the one adult in their lives who is stable and predictable enough for them to not be afraid of telling me what’s bothering them. 

Beyond a student’s emotional needs, you’re also there to help a student learn. They need to be able to trust you to do the best job that you can and that you will be there to help them through any obstacles or difficulties that they have. If they can’t trust their teacher, then what is the point of school?

This doesn’t mean that you need to be soft or overly accommodating. One of the earliest lessons that I learnt after I got my first class is that the students actually expect you to push them. They expect you to be a little hard and firm because this shows that you have high expectations of them. While some of them may struggle with this in the short term, it is an essential component of long-term respect and trust. They need to be able to trust you to do what is best regardless of what they want or how they feel, as much as they may struggle to articulate this with their partially-developed child or teenage brains.

See more: Why Male and Female Teachers Should Use Different Teaching Strategies.

Students need good role models.

Students need to know that intimidation is not something that everyone does. 

Teachers quickly become natural role models for their students. They are naturally going to watch, learn, and emulate your behaviour. If you intimidate your students, which is a form of bullying, then they are going to do the same. 

If a student has other adults in their lives who go out of their way to intimidate people, then they can easily get the impression that this is just the way that the world works and that it is completely normal. You don’t need to be intimidating each individual student either; if you know that a particular student needs a good role model then it’s not enough to simply behave when they are watching. Word gets around and your identity as a teacher (whether you consciously display it or not) will seep through. You need to be the kind of person who doesn’t intimidate others, not just someone who would never intimidate their students.

Students need to understand the distinction between being firm and being fearsome. 

As I just mentioned, this doesn’t mean that you need to be overly soft or emotional with them. You can still be a hard taskmaster without being intimidating, and it is important that your students also understand this distinction. 

Some of my most memorable teachers were those who didn’t give any concessions. They did not extend due dates, they expressed their disappointment every time that I didn’t complete the homework. They got visibly upset at me when I didn’t meet their expectations, but they didn’t make me afraid.

They didn’t scare me into doing my homework. They didn’t yell or scream, or threaten me with punishments. They certainly gave punishments in the form of lunchtime detentions or calls home to my parents, but it was very clear from the beginning that these were the consequences and they weren’t held over my head as a threat. The way in which this was presented, and the way that my teachers behaved, made it very clear that they were doing this because they cared. I had no doubt about that. 

You may think that you can intimidate someone because you care. That this is a tool to get a student to do what is actually best for them. There are such a range of tools that do not result in a student being afraid that it is not justifiable. 

See more: 4 Strategies for Developing Unconditional Positive Regard in the Classroom.

Students need to know how adults solve problems.

Some teachers will use intimidation as a last resort. 

A student simply refuses to behave in class. They never do any of their homework. They’re a lazy little so-and-so who doesn’t know what’s good for ‘em. 

This is not an excuse to resort to this method. 

Students will learn quickly what you do when you’re at the end of your tether. It makes it clear when you reach this point and yell or threaten, that while you don’t think that this behaviour is appropriate, you think that it is justifiable. This is not something that you want to teach your students. 

See more: Why Teacher Wellbeing is the Most Important Factor in Student Success.

What few young people realise is that bullying doesn’t stop with high school. Many workplaces have a huge bullying problem, and not all of it is consciously recognised as such. Some people simply learn that this is a way that you can get what you want or that intimidation is justifiable under some, very specific circumstances. That is enough to shift their identity from someone who “does not” into someone who “does sometimes” or “does when it’s necessary”, then of course the judgement about whether it is necessary is up to them.

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