Can you recall your favorite teacher? In grades k-12 I can recall two. One was the grade I teach -4th grade and the other was a great English teacher in high school, who I had for 3 years! Great teachers stand out for different reasons to different people. My English teacher stood out to me because he had passion for the students to learn how to write in such a way that they would be able to swim well at the university level. He also had a coolness factor and earned the respect of students. Shout out to Mr. Lunt! My fourth grade teacher, had great classroom management, knew what she was doing, and had great field trips. I was blessed to work with her as an adult in a teacher workshop this past summer! Imagine a student now colleague with her teacher! Mrs. Rosenberg added to wonderful 4th grade memories. A dean at Patten University added to the worthwhile experience I had at that private university. He had the right balance of professionalism, leadership, personability, warmth, and humbleness to learn from his students. Dr. Romines you are missed! In this article I will be addressing the benefits of building teacher and student relationships.
Students desire to know the person that stands in front of them and exposes them to ideas, thoughts, and critical thinking skills. Who is this person standing in front of me that holds and is giving me knowledge? What are they like and will they like me? These are some questions that I believe students ask themselves at a conscious or unconscious level in any educational degree they find themselves in. It is interesting to me that primary grade teachers tend to be a little more self revealing to students than university instructors. I understand that there is professionalism and boundaries, however I think that is exists in the primary grades as well, yet they don’t allow that to block relationship building with students. Teachers at any level that can find a balance of professionalism and personability with their students are ones that have a good balance of the teaching profession.
Students tend to learn better and place more effort when they know that teachers/instructors care about them, believe in them, and show interest in them. Who has the time to build relationships when there is curriculum to teach, and plan, activities to complete, and papers to grade? Oh -yes- and a life to live. Teaching is not only a helping profession -it is a giving profession. You give of your time outside of work (non-paid hours), investment of your own money, and of your physical, and mental energy. It is a profession that requires you to be well rested, and in good health, or it can impact students day. However, if you are able to make time to build relationships, there is no limit to the positive impact you are given the privilege to make on the life of a soul or individual.
Students will place more investment in their education and the work they produce when they know their teacher/instructor cares, and believes in them without a doubt. Student praise is a much needed practice as it can be a type of feedback for students that informs them on not only that they did a “good job,” but on the reason why it is considered a job well done. Additionally, praising “best effort” even when the product isn’t to the standard one desires is also a practice that may be missed, yet ought to be applied because it is still an increase in capability that is noted or an increased amount of effort that displays students interest in learning.
Relationship building may sometime need to be developed outside of class. For instance, a teacher can tend to get more task oriented versus relationship oriented when delivering a lesson and may exhibit behaviors that are not their off the job self. However it is that silly, funny, relaxed self students desire to come to know. Office visits at the university at some point, of the relationship, would be good to utilize to help students see this side of you if, the ability to do so in class has not yet been developed, or if, it makes it more personable within proper boundaries. I found my students coming in at lunch or after school frequently because they accidently forgot something and would want to talk. After a while, I understood they wanted to talk to their teacher and have a conversation unrelated to work. Being able to talk to them individually and as a group without task pressure or a class to manage is refreshing and a joy in teaching. Building relationships is considered a best practice in education. However, after a long day of work, I need my space to think and prep. So what can a teacher do?
I chose to give them what only the best meaning teachers make the time for. Once a week, I have chosen to eat lunch with my students, so I invite them to class after their lunch recess and have lunch together in the classroom (their choice). I opted to do this after reflecting on my own desires to get to know my instructors, and how I enjoyed the times we were able to sit and talk. I often found myself reflecting on the wisdom and knowledge gained from each visit whether it was words they said to me, ideas I expressed to them, a reciprocity of warmth, humor, and learning. All of these interactions contributed to some sense of positive memories.
I also have come across instructors that lacked that personable component and could care less of all the knowledge they held if, they didn’t come across as genuinely personable or caring. I don’t desire to be one of those people, so when a female student asked me if the girls could have lunch with me, I told her “Yes.” I loved it! By the second time we had lunch even the “quiet” students were actively talking, and I see these same students speaking up, raising their hands, and participating more. To my surprise, the 13 boys in my class also wanted to have lunch with their teacher! I thought they wouldn’t care to, but they do and are mindful of when it is their turn to do so. In relation to the boys, I think they get to know me better as a person and it helps me in decreasing the need to manage the class, which allows for more teaching to occur. I find that I enjoy lunch with the students because it allows me to be in a less task oriented state, and a more personable joking, funny, conversational state. This allows for relationships to be built among peers, and in the student-teacher-relationship in a way that is less distant.
In conclusion, relationship building with students is essential to the profession at any level of education. It has many benefits for both the student and the teacher. It is a very satisfying component of the art of teaching. Building relationships is important -and as a teacher, you never know how far your impact can go -so give it your best effort!
How do you let students know you care? How do you build relationships with your students?