An improved teacher-student relationship could lead to better levels of achievement for both parties.
IF I told you that studies carried out in recent years have more than conclusively proven that positive relationships between students and teachers do generate positive academic behaviour, would it change the way you interact with your students?
According to a study carried out by educationist Dr Robert Pianta and co-researchers, a close relationship with teachers not only leads to “higher levels of student engagement and achievement”, but can also “provide the motivation, initiative, and engagement which are essential for success”.
So, with Valentine’s Day tomorrow, it would be good for teachers to reflect and think of ways to love and understand their students better.
After all, it calls for a toast if recent findings reveal that students who perceive their teachers as highly supportive are also demonstrating positive behaviour. I asked some teachers what they thought of the findings.
Teh*, a Mathematics teacher highly regarded by his students, says that his students like him not only for his teaching skills, but because he is “approachable”.
“When I started out as a teacher, I was very strict with my students, and although I found it a strain to be regimental, I maintained it because I thought it would be for the better,” says the senior teacher.
“However, over time I began to listen to my students and understood their thoughts and actions.”
Teh confides that his style and approach in dealing with students also changed when he felt “shut out” by his own children. “It was painful for me for they would not talk to me but open up to my wife, who is also a teacher.
“In fact, I often criticised her for being too involved with her students and would tell her that she needed to maintain her professional distance. Now, I realise that she’s a better teacher because she takes the time to listen and is caring by nature.
“I have come to realise that students lose focus when they are confronted by issues. For instance, one of my sons was only 16 years old when he went through a difficult relationship with a girl. His grades fell and instead of understanding how hurt he was, I did the wrong thing by scolding him.
“With his youth and inexperience, he couldn’t handle the break-up and went into an emotional slump. If it hadn’t been for my wife I might have lost him. It was a wake up call for me. I then worked on rebuilding the relationship with my son,” he says.
For Teh, the experience “humbled him” and he admits that he now sees his students as “young, inexperienced people who struggle with personal issues and are challenged by intermittent problems.”
His advice to young teachers? “As a teacher, your job is not just teaching your subject and nagging your students about homework and exams. You must be willing to set some time aside and listen to them too, and let them know that they can share their problems with you.
“A good teacher-student relationship is based on having mutual respect and support for one another,” he says.
Nora*, a Chemistry teacher in a convent school, says that a teacher needs to relate to her female students to be considered “successful”. With almost a decade of teaching behind her, it is her warmth and empathy that endears her to her students.
“I attend their plays, concerts and extra-curricular activities. When they see me there, they know I care about them. They talk about these events, how they have fared, who did better, who ought not to have won ... you know, typical girl talk,” she says.
“I am with them in their moments of cheer and tears. By showing up, I’ve grown closer to them and that makes it easier should I need to advise them on keeping their grades up.”
In an article entitled “Relationships Matter”, Deborah Stipek, an internationally recognised scholar and researcher in the psychology of motivation, reports that adolescents “work harder when teachers treat them as individuals and express interest in their personal lives outside school”.
Surendran*, an English Language teacher, also found this to be true.
“I was brought up in a middle-class home and I grew up speaking mostly English at home. I considered myself a cultured person. When I was sent to a rural school to teach, many of the students came from the plantations. They were rude and rough. I was disgusted with them just as they were of me. They called me names but I ignored them.”
The change for him came when he read Stephen R. Covey’s book The Leader In Me – a book that talks about the positive changes teachers can make in their schools and the local community.
For Surendran, it made him reflect on his life as a teacher. “I was shocked at myself and at the way I treated my students. For instance, I blamed my students and was sometimes abusive in the way I spoke to them,” he says.
Since many of his students are Indians, he uses the latest Tamil movies as a point for discussion and in making his students attempt creative writing. He knows his students by name, compliments them for their achievements and offers positive feedback instead of criticising them.
Occasionally, he goes for a football game with the boys in the estate and is able to see for himself the problems they face.
“There are times when I need to reprimand them either for their behaviour or their poor grades, but I am more tactful now,” he shares.
Surendran says that there is a marked change in his students and their attitude. His next task is to work on making them pass their English tests. It is may be a tall order, but the young teacher is determined to make it happen.
After all, isn’t Valentine’s Day about reaching out and making a difference to those you care about?
*All names have been changed.
Source: The STAR Education Sunday February 13, 2011