I keep reading about how the way in which a teacher and student connect is one of the most important factors in a student’s learning experience; about how getting the relationship right can either inspire students to achieve things they never felt capable of or feel dejected, uncared for and generally wondering why they bothered turning up. This is a topic that is close to my heart as I completely agree with all the literature that states how important this is. So, if we know that it’s important, why do so many teachers seem to struggle???
Whenever I talk about this to my students, albeit sports coaching students or teacher trainers, I often talk about ‘the line’. When I talk to my students about this, it seems such an easy concept, just get the balance right between being friendly and disciplined and you’ll be fine. However, over many years, I constantly see the same thing happening. New or inexperienced teachers quite often seem to adopt one of two polar opposite strategies; the ‘overly friendly’ approach or the ‘strict disciplinarian’ approach. Let’s take a look at both:
‘Overly friendly’ approach
The teachers that adopt this approach are often the teachers that score really highly on any learner voice feedback. Quite often I have had the following conversations with students in my tutorials;
Me: So guys, who is your best teacher?
Students: It’s ‘teacher x’
Me: Why is that then guys?
Students: They’re really funny and they let us eat our lunch in lesson!!!
This teacher sets out to be liked and will want to avoid conflict at any cost. The problem with this approach is that at some point they will need to discipline the students, however the students are unlikely now to take the teacher seriously as they view them as ‘one of them’.
‘Strict disciplinarian’ approach
The teachers that adopt this approach are often not the people that score highly on any learner voice feedback!!!! This teacher has set their stall out very early on that the student’s will not walk all over them. The rules are black and white and any students not abiding by the rules will feel the teachers’ wrath!!! The problem with this approach is that, in this wonderful sector that we work in, we are dealing with people that will now and again make poor choices and it is the way in which we handle these situations that can make or break these students’ education. A one system fits all approach to dealing with individuals just doesn’t work.
Once teachers set out their stall and position themselves either to the left or the right of ‘the line’ it is incredibly difficult to realign yourself and find that middle ground in the same academic year. Many times I have witnessed teachers adopt the ‘overly friendly’ approach (this is always left of ‘the line’ for some reason!!) in year 1, only for them to realise that the students have them wrapped around their fingers!!! Year 2 starts and you’ve guessed it, they have flown over the line to the right and become Mr or Mrs Disciplinarian!!! Having experienced the one extreme they always seem to fly across to the other side in year 2!!!!!
The relationship between teacher and student is so important and I agree with Hannah Tyreman that the best teachers are easily identifiable. For me they straddle this line perfectly, they know their students really well, they care about the students’ learning deeply and want them to succeed, in their life, in their career, it is more than just to satisfy the ‘outcomes for learners’ statistic. These teachers are very natural with their learners, they share a joke, they can discuss mundane things, they acknowledge each other in corridors with a hello or a smile and because of this they command their respect, a respect that is reciprocated. If and when the learners let the teacher down, perhaps not submitting an assignment to deadline, turning up late to a lesson or leaving a mess in the classroom, the learners listen when the teacher disciplines them, they feel bad because they genuinely know they have let the teacher down. When you have this type of relationship with your learners, you may not be the funny teacher or their favourite teacher but the chances are you will be the one that can inspire them to achieve things they did not think possible.