Unconditional Teaching

a living manifesto for healthier relationships in education

Good Girl = Good Teacher?

Jessica Koch | 13 Oct 2020 |

Kindness and the tendency to accommodate others can help to foster relationships in education. However, when “Good Girls” grow up to be teachers, their uncompromising yearning for other people’s affections may have problematic consequences.

There is this psychological umbrella term of the “Good Girl Syndrome”: Being raised as a woman to be always mindful of others, to be cheery and polite, to be forthcoming with kindness and always helpful even when we are sad, tired, exhausted, or mad; all this to secure other people's benevolence, avoid conflict, and deflect scorn. I sometimes feel that this people-pleasing behaviour is so deeply entrenched into my very core that it becomes an integral part of my teaching persona. And that has some less than pleasant consequences.

I sometimes feel like I have become unable to stand my ground when it would be necessary for my own work flow, my plans, my mental and physical health.

It is wonderful being appreciated by my students for the work that I do and the way I communicate, yet I sometimes feel like I have become unable to stand my ground when it would be necessary for my own work flow, my plans, my mental and physical health. This is not just the case when I need to say “no” to my students (“No, I can’t supervise your paper”, “No, I don’t have time for an additional appointment”, “No, I can’t extend your deadline again”) but more so when I need to say “no” to myself (“No, you can’t supervise another paper right now”, “No, you don’t have the time for another appointment this week”, “No, you can’t extend the deadline because you will run into time issues”). I want to be the “Good Teacher” so desperately sometimes that I forget to be mindful of my own limits and that sometimes being perceived as “good” may compromise my ability to teach and supervise effectively.

I want to be a good teacher, the best teacher I can possibly be. I want to be mindful of others, cheery and polite, helpful and forthcoming with kindness. But I need to remind myself that my energy and time are limited and that there is only so much I can do before I need to stop. In spite of me knowing I need to be kind to myself and that I need breaks and don’t need to say “yes” to everything, and in spite of the fact that there are strategies that help me with that, I tend to let my perfectionism and my thirst for approval get in the way of doing what I believe is right for both myself and my students.

In these past years as a lecturer, I have slowly begun to learn what it means to be a good teacher. Sometimes it means to set boundaries. It means allowing myself to be tired or sad and accept that a session is just “okay” instead of “great” because of that. It means accepting that a lot of students won’t like that session. It means accepting that I make mistakes – often. It means accepting that some of my students and colleagues will think less of me as a teacher and as a person because of that. It means learning to care about that a little less vigorously. It means saying “no” when it matters.

The kindness that I want to show to my students (and everybody, really) is not a bad thing. It is what I think makes me, well, me. But when it makes my job more difficult than it should be and when it interferes with the quality of my teaching and supervision, I need to re-evaluate and re-adjust my perception of myself and the conduct that arises from it. Being a people-pleasing “Good Girl” doesn’t make me a good teacher by default and sometimes the responsible thing to do comes with the risk displeasing others.


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