Over my years of teaching, I have come to the realization that effective teaching is largely about relationships. At the very heart of good teaching is the ability to show your students that you genuinely value them and care about them.
However, like all relationships, the student-teacher relationship is a two-way street. A teacher can try very hard to forge warm, caring relationships with students, but if the student is indifferent and disrespectful, chances are the relationship will fall apart.
On most days, I feel incredibly lucky to have the students that I have. They are fabulous kids: compassionate and kind, bright and interesting, hardworking and motivated. I hope they know how much I value them. I certainly feel as though, for the most part, they value me and what I do for them.
On some days, however, I feel discouraged. When a student is rude and disrespectful, unappreciative and overly-critical, disengaged and indifferent to class discussions and activities, I begin to feel discouraged. How do I get the student involved? Is it my fault? Am I not engaging enough? Have I not made enough of an effort to cultivate a strong relationship with the student?
In today's world, we hear a lot about what teachers should do for students. Teachers are expected to be somewhat saint-like. We need to care about our students, empathize with them, and connect with them. We need to engage, encourage, and inspire them. We need to be calm, patient, and caring all the time. We need to spend time giving each individual student extensive feedback via conferences, extra-help sessions, and email. (Keep in mind that the average high school teacher has roughly 100 students each year.) When they behave badly in class, we need to reflect on our practice: how and why are we failing to engage them? Parents, administrators and students themselves are always ready to critique and blame the teacher for failing to be a perfect saint.
But what about the students? What responsibility do they have to their teachers? Why is it okay for students to be rude, disrespectful, or disengaged in class? Why does everyone assume that the onus for a healthy teacher-student relationship rests completely on the shoulders of the teacher? On the few occasions where I have students who just don't seem to care about my class or their relationship with me, no matter how hard I try, I sometimes find myself getting angry and upset. I know that I am the adult; the student is the child. I know that, much like a parent, I need to be the bigger person. Yet, it is hard not to take these situations personally. It is hard not to become disengaged myself; not to become distant and cynical.
Fortunately, the vast majority of my students are fantastic kids. However, I do have some advice for all students:
- remember that teachers are human too.
- remember that you and the teacher SHARE the responsibility to create a strong relationship that will support your learning.
- remember that your teacher wants to have a good relationship with you, but she/he can't make this happen without some cooperation from you.
- disruptive and rude behavior is not just an annoyance to your teacher; it's a strong message that you don't care about the class or your teacher.
- It doesn't take much to forge a good relationship with your teacher: come to class on time, engage in the learning process, show interest and enthusiasm for class discussions and activities, be polite and respectful, and show gratitude when your teacher goes out of his/her way for you and your classmates.