I saw this question on Quora recently and then most-upvoted response was curious to me, so I thought I’d offer my .02 as a teacher who sometimes struggled with this in practice.
And while I’m not sure it’d be widely useful for TeachThought readers and doesn’t really fit in with our typical content that focuses on critical thinking and innovation in education, I decided to share it here as well for any teachers who’ve been on either side of this scenario.
Question: What do other teachers think of the ‘cool teacher’ in school?
It depends on the nature of the ‘cool.’ It also depends on the school culture and the relationships the ‘cool’ teacher has built not only with students but other teachers and administrators. Content areas and grade levels would probably be factors as well–a ‘cool’ 2nd-grade teacher versus a high school drama teacher, for example. But broadly speaking, let’s consider the dynamics.
There is an undeniable performative component to teaching. It doesn’t necessarily require charisma or using modern pop culture references or doing handstands on the desk. While students don’t have to ‘like’ their teacher, research shows that the use of humor, for example, can improve teacher effectiveness. The ability to tell stories, relate to students, smile, use ‘invisible’ classroom management strategies that don’t feel heavy-handed–all of these might contribute to students thinking a teacher is ‘cool.’
Was Jaime Escalante ‘cool’ in Stand and Deliver?
But there’s another perspective to consider: many of the stereotypical ways a teacher might be thought of as ‘cool’—talking to students like they might their own friends, generous grading, being lax with deadlines, or having a laid-back style of classroom management can be thought of as self-correcting in the sense that student achievement can suffer, some students will likely be uncomfortable with such an atmosphere, and parents will likely start asking questions.
And in that respect, I’d think that other teachers would take issue with the students’ needs being subverted in light of the larger-than-life personality of the teacher.
Now, that doesn’t mean there isn’t a middle ground where a teacher can be ‘cool’ and strong in curriculum, assessment, and instruction—and in those cases, any teacher that ‘didn’t like’ that teacher may need to reconsider what makes them ‘like,’ collaborate, and otherwise work together with their colleagues.