On Becoming a Teacher – part III – Unconditional Positive Regard


June 30, 2010 by Willy Cardoso

Firstly a message to my readers, friends, PLN…

This series I’m writing is many times a think-out-loud exercise in my process of formulating my teaching philosophy, and a way to share some of the things that I have learnt which have had great impact on my life not only as a teacher, but as a person. I open it to discussion because I strongly feel that I can learn even more by talking to others. It’s great to find like-minded people, and it’s also very special when some others critically disagree.

I kindly invite you to respond to these writings somehow. It can be a simple thumbs up/down, an external link to related subjects or a kilometric observation on how wrong I am. It’s all up to you!


Watch your mouth!

However improbable you might think this is (or not), I’ve heard many times teachers saying:

“This student will never learn”

And things like that, which I don’t feel like listing here.

When I listen to such absurd statements, I can only make two remarks, and they usually depend firstly on the kind of relationship I have with the person who says it, and secondly on my mood.

“If you think so, you should stop teaching him right now”

“Maybe this student will never learn by the way you want to teach him, maybe if you change your teaching, he’ll learn”

One of the most important things I learned on becoming a teacher is that I should always have and show an unconditional positive regard for the person who trusted in me, and gave me the unique opportunity, to participate in and facilitate his learning.

This genuine acceptance is devoid of possessiveness and judgment. In other words, this positive feeling the teacher will have is not influenced by the learner’s variability in attitudes and motivation, because the teacher will accept him for what he is, or better, for what his is becoming.


Becoming is a key word in this series.

Once I acknowledge every person in a learning relationship is in a process of becoming, that is, in a dynamic process, open to changes, and thus of unpredictable behavior; I’ll soften the downsides of high expectations and evaluations. I’ll also allow this learner to develop in a more self-directed fashion, with autonomy.


Getting it off my chest

It’s undeniable that everyone is capable of personal growth. The problem is that growth in any aspect, has been standardized and tested by weedy stakeholders. Health, good fortune, faith, well-being are measured. Language proficiency is X, competence is Y and achievement is Z, what are these words anyway? These things contaminate education and drive interpersonal/helping/learning relationships out of the classroom. Unconditional positive regard gets pretty damn difficult to achieve because teachers don’t want those deadbeats, bullies and unruly brats to disturb the objectives of their curriculum, so it’s easier to avoid them, after all teachers are there to teach, right? Ha…

Send them in to my class then. I don’t know if I can teach what others expect them to know, probably not; but by accepting them as they come, I’m sure they’ll learn something, something that matters to them at that moment, something that will lead to ______ (Who knows?).

Really, it’s too farfetched to believe that learning is linear and that it can be predicted.

Forget teaching, focus on learning.


6 thoughts on “On Becoming a Teacher – part III – Unconditional Positive Regard

  1. Vicky Loras says:

    Hi Willy!
    Fantastic post – thank you so much for this series.
    “If you think so, you should stop teaching him right now” –> I am quoting you here and if you do not mind, I will add “and try to find a new job while you are at it”. I do not mean to be harsh or critical, but in order to be an educators and good ones as well, teachers should have empathy first and foremost, for the people they are teaching. If they cannot empathize with the students, then they are probably in the wrong profession. And they are not helping their students at all.
    As you very correctly put it, educators should have that quality, which is so inextricably linked to teaching – “unconditional positive regard”. Positive feedback and a positive attitude to students is so significant and thank you for pointing it out as a necessary quality for a teacher.
    I am forwarding this to my colleagues.
    Kindest regards,

  2. Dr. Sanford Aranoff says:

    “my teaching philosophy,” My teaching philosophy is to focus on the basic principles. Unfortunately, many teachers fail to do this. Teachers must understand how students think and build from there using the basic principles. See “Teaching and Helping Students Think and Do Better” on amazon.

  3. Leahn says:

    Hi Willy,

    Just found your blog. A very interesting post on “unconditional positive regard” I wish it were so easy I see so many tired burnout teachers that really shouldn’t be in the classroom. It’s a terrible shame for all involved. They def need to read this!

    Thanks and hope to be back here soon

    • Hi Leahn

      Glad you liked it.
      As you said, it’s a shame for all involved, but at the same time it’s the responsibility of all involved. I see it’s very easy to blame on teachers, many times learners, parents, adms are also to blame.

      I visited your blog too and I liked it too, will add it to my blogroll.


  4. indiafearnley says:

    Hello! I have just stumbled across you blog, so will be making my way through it!
    The first part of this post struck a chord with me: “This student will never learn”. I am fairly new to teaching, and one of my friends who did the CELTA with me, posted a comment on facebook yesterday. It was “there is no such thing as a bad teacher… only a bad student.” I was pretty shocked at this attitude! Surely it’s the other way round? What do you think?
    Being such a new teacher, I thought he would be full of enthusiasm and love for teaching… How could be become so negativie in such a short space of time?

    I am looking foward to reading what else you have to say.


    • Hi India

      I’d often say, there’s no such thing as a bad student. But there are, so that’s why we still need teachers, teachers that will motivate, engage, facilitate, etc. Maybe one day (in a thousand years perhaps) we won’t need teachers anymore, but there will still be learners, for sure.

      If you frowned upon your friend’s attitude, you on the right track. But that’s not going to be the last time you’ll hear such an absurd, even teacher with years of experience on their back say stuff like that.

      It’s people like you, with love for teaching, that will make a difference!

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