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The Caring Teacher

Strategies for Working Through Our Own Difficulties with Students

With a clear eye on the realities of teaching, The Caring Teacher lays out specific strategies to build and improve even our most challenging relationships with students.

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Full Description

Painful truth: there are just some students that you don’t immediately connect with, and fear you never will.   You have reasons and the teacher who had that student last year probably did, too. But what happens to students when they pass through school unliked? And is it possible for us to move beyond our initial feelings to better relationships with all students?

Cassetta and Wilson have a challenge to all of us:  as professionals who have chosen to work with young people, it’s our responsibility to find a way to care about every student, especially the ones who feel the hardest to like. Students can’t learn from people who don’t like them or who they don’t like. If we teach, strong student-teacher relationships have to be one of our top priorities.

With a clear eye on the realities of teaching, The Caring Teacher lays out specific strategies to build and improve even our most challenging relationships. Acknowledging teachers’ daily struggles, Cassetta and Wilson offer a variety of ways—from mindset shifts to small strategies—to improve all student relationships. These strategies can help us intentionally foster competence, relatedness, and autonomy in every student, giving them us the capacity to see their strengths and cultivate their roles as vital parts of our classroom communities.

The Caring Teaching is an invitation to look inward for reflection, and outward for connection. An invitation to try.  Not just for the students who conform to our expectations, but for the ones who don’t. The ones who most need us to be better.

Additional Resource Information

(click any section below to continue reading)


Introduction: How Much Should We Care About Each Other?

1. Your Feelings Matter

2. What Children Need
3. Language That Builds Relationships
4. Relatedness
5. Competence
6. Autonomy
Conclusion: Looking Inward and Outward

In Depth

In classrooms, intentionally or not, we sometimes use students as scapegoats, to allow us to cast off discomfort with ourselves and our practice and to avoid confronting our own weaknesses and insecurities. In Western thought, Hegel described this as the creation of the Other (Kain 1943), or someone who is different from us in some fundamental, lesser, and inferior way, such as values, religion, gender, race, ethnicity, species, or sexuality. The Other is our scapegoat, which in common psychology is the person or people held to blame for a multitude of problems for which they are not responsible.

I’d be doing a real injustice to children if I led you to believe that the creation of the Other existed only in the brain. Because of bias, we’ve created institutions that reflect and enact it on people. This kind of institutionalized othering is called institutional bias. Even if we can’t escape it, we can certainly take responsibility for recognizing it and our role in upholding it.

If you are asking, “What does this have to do with my work as a teacher?” here is the simple answer: If we don’t see the institutional conditions that impede the Other, then we can’t understand their experiences or create equitable learning environments for them. If we don’t see the institutional conditions that impede children, we are led into misunderstandings that we need to fix students instead of fixing the conditions that marginalize students—and the fixing-children mind-set and teaching-children mind-set oppose each other. As participants in educational institutions, who bring our own biases into the classroom, we need to examine and own our role in maintaining its racist practices.

Planning for students to become people who know they are meaningful members of the school community, who are competent, and who are autonomous requires that we have compassion for each and every student—but especially for the student who is most unlikeable to us. We have all met them, have all taught them, and at times it seems like those children are demanding that we have heroic levels of patience and persistence. We really start to lose it when we realize that patience and persistence are not enough. We can’t tolerate it when being who we are in this moment is not enough.

I’m suggesting that we shift our paradigm about how children can and should fit into the structure of a classroom community. Many of us expect children to conform to the model we envision. This often seems like expecting a square peg to fit in a round hole. Just because many children can do it, it doesn’t mean everyone should be expected to. Instead we should be thinking about how to make our instruction, both social and academic, conform to student needs.


Companion Resources

  1. Track Disciplinary Practices (Fig. 0.1)
  2. Shift to Empathy (Fig. 1.1)
  3. Take the Family's Point of View (Fig. 1.3)
  4. Assess Children's Self-Perceived Agency (Fig. 2.3)
  5. Examine Asset and Deficit Labeling (Fig. 2.4)
  6. Plan Asset-Based Language (Fig. 3.2)
  7. Reframe Your Thinking (Fig. 3.3)
  8. Brainstorm Positive Actions (Fig. 3.4)
  9. Conversation Protocol Worksheet (Fig. 3.5)
  10. Replace Problematic Language (Fig. 3.8)
  11. Use Intentional Language (Fig. 3.10)
  12. Beginning-of-the-Year Survey (Fig. 4.2)
  13. Venn Diagram Activity (Fig. 4.3)
  14. Three-Question Interview (Fig. 4.4)
  15. Learn More About Individual Students (Fig. 4.6)
  16. Teach the Social Skills Your Students Need (Fig. 4.8)
  17. Assess a Child's Strengths (Fig.5.3)
  18. Rehearse Language That Promotes Confidence (Fig. 5.4)
  19. Plan Opportunities for Student's to Self-Assess (Fig. 5.7)
  20. Shift Ownership to Students (Fig. 6.1)
  21. Class Meeting Planning Worksheet (Fig. 6.2)
  22. Identify and Expand on Social and Academic Choices (Fig. 6.4)
  23. Teacher-Student Conversation Protocol Planning Sheet (Fig. 6.5)

Related PD Services


Email if you would like to contact Gianna Cassetta directly about professional development support.

Email if you would like to contact Margaret Wilson directly about professional development support.