As the great Dr. Rita Pierson said in her TED talk, “Kids don’t learn from people they don’t like.” This idea is easy for anyone to support with their own anecdotal evidence. When you look back at your school years, with whom did you learn the most? Can you still remember their names? For me, every memory I have of deep, authentic, meaningful learning is linked to an inspirational teacher.

This was described really well by Steins, G. and Behravan, B.

“Teachers normally hold the control in the classroom and have more power over students, students also have some power and might use their power against teachers, and this power game might create an unfriendly atmosphere in classroom, if teachers have a good relationship with student the chances of this conflict will decrease” (Freire, 1973; Bartlett, 2005; cited in Steins 2017).

This makes sense. If your students don’t like you, they probably don’t trust you and are less likely to believe in the value of what you are trying to teach them. If your students do like you, it would seem logical that they believe in the value of what you’re teaching, and will work with you rather than against you. This is further supported by Jeanne Cameron, PhD, who surveyed high school dropouts. She explained that when asked how they remembered high school, many of them claimed that they didn’t feel known or valued (Hoard, D. C., & Ferro, R., 2018). What a shame!

So, what are some of the ways that you can “make” your students like you?

1. Be genuine.

OopsStudents can tell when you are being fake, so don’t do it. Laugh when you think something is funny, tell them the truth, and teach with your own style that fits you. In “Crafting a Teaching Persona” (2007), the author makes the distinction between our true selves and our teaching persona (aka the way we present ourselves to students), and suggests that we offer those true selves to students, and forgo artificial representations as much as possible (Lang, 2007).

2. Get to know your students’ likes and dislikes.

Ask them about the activities that they are doing outside of school, like sports or clubs. Put their names and those seemingly small but hugely important details into math problems. Following Rita Pierson’s example, this isn’t optional; you are paid to know this stuff. Learning about the unique sets of knowledge that each individual brings from home to the classroom has been coined the “funds of knowledge”, which are socially, historically, and culturally developed bodies of knowledge and skills necessary for functioning as an individual (Williams, 2016). A teacher’s ability to tap these funds and leverage them for learning cannot be understated.


3. Show students that you value their voice

Ask your students for their opinions on what kinds of activities they like or what they need extra practice on. If you are giving them a particularly difficult activity, explain how it will benefit them. Students should know that there is value in what you ask of them. This will give them the extra push to work harder at it when they are struggling.

In “Small voices, big impact: preparing students for learning and citizenship” (Cody & McGarry, 2012), the authors offered a list of commitments that teachers and organizations must make to ensure that student voices are honored. These included:

  • A commitment to learning about children as individuals − their strengths, needs, learning styles, and personalities − to help them find success in our classrooms.
  • A commitment to building community, creating learning environments where students can develop comfort with themselves, their peers, and their teachers in order to ask questions and express ideas.
  • A commitment to treating children with respect, showing them that we value their thoughts and opinions.
  • A commitment to helping students discover their individual talents and abilities, strengthening them in areas where they excel and supporting them in areas where they struggle.

4. Tell them stories about yourself so they know more about you.

One of my students’ favorite stories is about the massive blisters that developed on my feet during my month long hike along the Camino de Santiago in Spain. They were so painful, I had to ask a woman to help me drain them with a needle and bandage them up before I continued on my way. Not only do they think stories about you are funny, but they learn about your interests and who you are as a person.


5. Have fun with your kids!

I’ve done educational baking projects, and played games. As an American teacher abroad, I always feel really sad around Thanksgiving. One year I was talking to my students about it and discovered that only one of them had ever tasted pie. That Thanksgiving I took my students out in groups of 4 to make pie from scratch (being in a measurement unit, we were able to weave math into the project easily as well). It was a great experience that both my students and I will remember.


Do you have any other ideas on how to create positive relationships with your students? Comment below, and join our Facebook group, Over-Posting Educators!

By Stephanie Groshell, @SGroshell

References and Further Reading

Bartlett, L. (2005). Dialogue, Knowledge, and Teacher-Student Relations: Freirean Pedagogy in Theory and Practice. Comparative Education Review, 49, 344-364.

Cody, J. L., & McGarry, L. S. (2012). Small voices, big impact: Preparing students for learning and citizenship. Management in Education, 26(3), 150-152. doi:10.1177/0892020612445693Freire, P. (1973). Education for Critical Consciousness. New York, NY: Continuum.

Hoard, D. C., & Ferro, R. (Producers). (2018). Re: Thinking Movie [Video file]. Retrieved February 2, 2018, from

Lang, James M (2007). “Crafting a Teaching Persona”. The Chronicle of higher education (0009-5982), 53 (23).

Steins, G. and Behravan, B. (2017) Teacher-Student-Relationships in Teacher Education: Exploring Three Projects of Knowledge Transfer into Action. Psychology8, 746-770. doi: 10.4236/psych.2017.85048.

Williams, Julie J. (06/15/2016). “Supporting Mathematics Understanding Through Funds of Knowledge”. Urban education (Beverly Hills, Calif.) (0042-0859), p. 004208591665452.


6 thoughts on “What Students Think of Their Teachers Matters

    1. Thank you, Adam! I think your post links well to this one. If you want to form strong relationships with your students, you are going to need to show them a bit of who you are as a person. Different teachers can determine where they want to draw the line of how much they are comfortable sharing, but you need to let your students know you!

      Liked by 2 people

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