Relationships and Learning

The Gallop Poll has been monitoring people’s opinions after presidential elections since the 1960’s. Three characteristics of the candidates are polled: loyalty to party, issues, and likability. Of the three characteristics, the one that is most important in determining the outcome of the election is the candidate’s “likability factor.”

We all want to be liked—which leads to a major mistake of many new teachers —especially secondary teachers, viz., attempting to have their students like them by befriending them. This often takes the form of encouraging students to call them by their given name, rather than by their surname, in effect  to placing themselves on the same level as their students.

Certainly, teachers should be friendly, but friendship is not the way to build likability—nor is it the building block that young people need. Encouragement and empowerment are the essentials.

A first grader did not learn how to read. She repeated first grade. At the end of the year, assessment again showed she lacked sufficient reading skills to advance to the next grade. During the assessment meeting where the teachers were considering placement of students for the upcoming school year, a second grade teacher said, “Place her in my classroom for next year.” On the first day of school as the low self-esteemed youngster walked into the classroom, her new teacher cheerfully greeted her at the door: “I’ve been waiting for you. This year I’m going to teach you how to read.”

Today, that second grader is a reading teacher. I heard her tell the story of how she still remembers comments her second grade teacher continually made to encourage and empower her.

The relationships that students have with their teachers come from the influence teachers have on them. A teacher’s influence grows by empowering young people, rather than by befriending them.

As an instructional coordinator in an urban high school in Los Angeles, I witnessed how students exerted enormous effort for the quietest, oldest teacher I have ever met. This builder of young people did not befriend her students but rather encouraged and empowered them to do their best.

Did her students like her?

They loved her.