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How Approachable Teachers Can Better Engage Their Students

While studies suggest that teachers are, in fact, more scared of their students than the other way around, it doesn’t change the fact that many children continue to fear their teachers. In truth, scare tactics don’t work with students, regardless of whether they’re over or underachievers. Furthermore, these scare tactics could be doing more harm than good.

According to a study by the American Psychological Association, these teacher’s scare tactics can lead to lower test scores. These scare tactics include focusing on failure rather than success and highlighting negative consequences, for example. This report found that students who feel threatened by their teacher’s messages are less motivated and, therefore, have lower test scores. On the other hand, students with teachers who use fewer scare tactics as a motivation tool tend to perform better during exams.

With this in mind, could an approachable demeanor lead to higher levels of engagement in the classroom?

Students pushing boundaries

As educators, we’re tasked with the role of setting academic expectations for our students. However, we also need to set behavioral boundaries. These help students understand the rules while also encouraging them to take more responsibility for their actions, and of course, their learning. Moreover, by setting these boundaries, you can more easily recognize and congratulate good behavior in your classroom.

Unfortunately, kids will always test these boundaries. One of the most common ways students do this is by questioning the relevance of the curriculum you’re teaching them. They do this by asking a question similar to “When am I ever going to use this?”, thus making you feel like they may be undermining the hard work and time you’ve put into designing your lessons.

In this instance, an educator has two options. The first one is to get frustrated and simply tell them to do what they’re told. The other is to consider the idea that they may genuinely want to know the answer to this question. And, by answering this question in a constructive and approachable way, you’re opening the door to further discussion and engagement.


According to a study by the American Psychological Association, these teacher’s scare tactics can lead to lower test scores. These scare tactics include focusing on failure rather than success and highlighting negative consequences, for example.

Encouraging students to take ownership of their learning

Embracing this situation can be extremely difficult for educators and it’s not unusual for many to take a more authoritative stance in the hope that students will think twice before doing it again. However, consider the outcome if you were to indulge the student asking the question with a full response.

By answering these questions you’re showing a willingness to engage and respect your students. With a valid response, your students are encouraged to take ownership of their learning process. Because they’re now able to clearly see the connection between your lesson and their future, they become responsible for reaching the goals outlined in your curriculum.

Approachability is a stepping stone to student engagement

While answering tough questions shows your students that you’re approachable, other influencing characteristics include having enthusiasm for teaching as a whole, encouraging students, not belittling or humiliating students, and being “down to earth” and humorous. Additionally, research suggests that students feel more engaged when being taught by authentic teachers.

Authentic teachers are those that allow an opportunity for students to share experiences and do so in return. They also take the time before and after a lesson to talk to students. They see teaching as an opportunity to engage with their classroom.

The link between approachability and other skills

In addition to all the above, students found authentic teachers to be more approachable, attentive, knowledgeable, capable, and passionate. These same students made it clear that this level of attention and authenticity had a lasting impact on their education. So, is there a link between approachability, authenticity, and other skills? The answer is yes.

By being more approachable, you encourage your children to ask questions which opens lines of communication in your classroom. Furthermore, you’re showing your students that you’re passionate about what you’re teaching them and how they learn from your lessons. They, in turn, can feel more committed to their curriculum which can lead to higher test scores.

In short, teaching isn’t about setting strict rules and using authority to implement them. It’s about setting boundaries that don’t discourage students from questioning the purpose of their lessons and that drive them to take ownership of their education as a whole. By learning from a team of professionals with first-hand experience setting the right tone within their classroom, you could become a more approachable teacher that better engages your students.