But…We Do Learn from People We Don’t Like

In a quite popular Ted Talk, Every Kid Needs A Champion, Dr. Rita Pierson says many great things about relationships and education.  I have no doubt she was an incredible educator and mentor to students and teachers.  You can see it and feel it in the way she delivers her talk; she’s got it.  I believe this quote best summarizes her talk:

“Every child deserves a champion, an adult who will never give up on them, who understands the power of connection, and insists that they become the best that they can possibly be.”


With few caveats, I agree with this statement and the overall sentiment of the Ted Talk.


Unfortunately and increasingly, the quote I see and hear pulled from Dr. Pierson’s speech for use by well-meaning school districts and edutwitter is false:

“You know, kids don’t learn from people they don’t like.”

A little context — Dr. Pierson is talking with a teacher who states she isn’t paid to like the kids, but paid to teach a lesson and the students should learn.  This prompts Dr. Pierson to responds with the above statement and add that it will be a “long and arduous” year for this teacher.

I agree with Dr. Pierson.  The teacher probably had a rough year if he/she did not try to cultivate some sort of positive relationship with their students.  I cannot imagine, as an educator, completely neglecting the personal aspect of the classroom.  What a struggle it would be to show up everyday inspired to do your job.  While my curriculum and study skills I present to my students are certainly my focus, the relationships and environment of the class also play a role in the success of all involved.


Students can and do learn from people they don’t like.  Our brain doesn’t shut down due to our appraisal of where information originates in the environment.  I didn’t care for a few coaches and teachers in my schooling, but I still remember the different structures of a plant cell and how to defeat the offsides trap.  Also, I can imagine situations where we may actually learn more from people we don’t like.  The child abused by a parent/relative may learn how they don’t want to behave when they become a parent.  There are many situations where we may observe behaviors exhibited by people we don’t respect or like and we learn how we either don’t want to be treated or treat others.

Can you imagine if it were actually true students didn’t learn from teachers they don’t like?  The amount of schedule changes would be outlandish.  Students upset with their grade or not in the class with all of their friends would have the perfect exit strategy.  I can just hear it now, “I can’t learn from Mr. Smith because I don’t like him.  My brain just won’t allow it.”  Also, teachers could be blamed for low test scores because their students just don’t like them enough.  The teaching profession would become a popularity contest.

Some may say I’m splitting hairs and Dr. Pierson’s statement shouldn’t be taken so seriously.  I don’t see it that way.  How do you believe the myth of learning styles continues to grow even though all evidence points to its falsehood?  There’s also this myth that exists even though I’ve yet to see any proof of its validity:

*If anyone can point me to research advocating for the statistics on this pyramid, please do.

The spread of learning myths is rampant in our schools and on social media.  Universities still advertise coursework on learning styles, and other myths (right vs. left brained, brain gyms, the learning pyramid above) are still taught in professional development sessions across the world.  These myths are not harmless.  They shape the training of our teaching methods incorrectly and can create aversive conditions for our students.  Teachers need to know of their falsehoods to avoid proliferation; and because of that, Dr. Pierson’s false statement should not be ignored.

So, students do learn from people they don’t like and it’s important all involved in education know.  Every truth deserves a champion, an advocate who will never give up on it, who understands the power of its application, and insists that they become as known as possible.

How will you combat learning myths?  How will you advocate for the truths of education?

About the Author

Blake is a high school AP Psychology teacher at James Clemens High School in Madison, AL. He earned his B. S. and M. Ed. from the University of Montevallo. He has a particular passion for cognitive psychology and its application in his classroom. You can find Blake on Twitter @effortfuleduktr and on his blog at www.effortfuleducator.com.

6 Comments on "But…We Do Learn from People We Don’t Like"

  1. Andy Schwei | August 30, 2017 at 10:30 am |

    Your point that teachers need to be wary of educational fads and closely examine the research behind educational initiatives and reform efforts is well taken. Furthemore, after searching for research to support the statistics on the pyramid you rereferenced (which I have always heard referred to as William Glasser’s learning scale) I came up empty. Even though there may not be research to support the percentages in the pyramid, the pedagogical approach for which it advocates can be supported by active learning research as well as John Hattie’s Visible Learning research. As Hattie notes, the specific teaching method employed is less important than the way educators think about their role (mindsets). In other words, searching for the proverbial holy grail or truth(s) of education is not the right question. Instead, educators need to be implementing, actively measuring, and adjusting their instructional strategies to maximize student achievement.

    • Cheryl Kilker | August 30, 2017 at 10:53 am |

      YESSS! Thank you Andy Schwei for your remarks!

    • Richard Lehman | August 30, 2017 at 11:10 am |

      Excellent closing statement: “…educators need to be implementing, actively measuring, and adjusting their instructional strategies to maximize student achievement.” Well said Mr. Schwei, well said!
      — I would also add, providing timely feedback/checking for understanding (use of formative assessment) for the optimal teachable moment.

    • Effortful Educator | August 30, 2017 at 11:45 am |

      Thank you for your thoughtful comments. While I don’t completely agree with Hattie’s philosophy of education, I do agree that the teacher must take account of where their student’s are in terms of knowledge level. In my opinion, a certain level of knowledge should be attained on a particular subject before successful application and creative usage of material.

      • Cheryl Kilker | August 30, 2017 at 3:00 pm |

        Point well taken. While some may say “well, that goes without saying,” (that we need to build upon a “certain level” of attained knowledge,) it still should be said. With ever-changing instructional strategies, this simple principle may be overlooked, leaving a weak or non-existent foundation of knowledge.

  2. Thanks for the thought provoking post! We should all think critically, I think, about the “big generalizations” we hear about teaching and learning. The statement you examine, “students don’t learn from people they don’t like” definitely deserves scrutiny, and you do an excellent job, I think. Teaching and learning are too complex for simple generalizations!

    I wonder if a follow up blog post might be useful about the ways in which positive student teacher relationships are useful/advantageous for teaching/learning? This APA post might be useful? http://www.apa.org/education/K12/relationships.aspx . Even though the over-statement “students don’t learn from people they don’t like” is too broad a generalization, student-teacher relationships might be an important variable to talk about in teaching/learning, right?

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