I recently had the chance to distribute a survey to students in my design classes, one of those school-wide ones that all students have to complete on all of their teachers. I was happy with the results. It included questions such as “My teacher likes me” and “My teacher takes time to speak with me about me learning.” Like most educators, I’m deeply aware of the implications that the answers to these questions might have for learning; What students think of their teachers matters.
The thing is, questions like “My teacher likes me” and “My teacher believes I can succeed” were not ones that I worried too much about in my previous role as a homeroom teacher. One of the biggest growing pains I’ve had in moving from the classroom to the role of a specialist teacher has been that I don’t see the students as often and thus play a less significant role in their day-to-day lives. It’s not that it’s impossible to establish deep, meaningful relationships with students as a specialist teacher, but it seems harder. For the first time in my career I would completely understand if there was a student somewhere in my 15 classes that answered “no” to one of those questions on the survey. It’s upsetting.
I honestly wasn’t sure if Rate My Professors still existed, and indeed it does. Of course the first thing I did when I arrived at the updated interface was search for the professors I currently have for my Ph.D classes; one of them had great ratings, I disagreed, the other had terrible ratings, I disagreed. It got me thinking how terrible it must be to have the perceptions of your teaching as public record, and how lucky I am just yet to be working in K-12 where we aren’t subjected to slander from failing teenagers on a popular ratings website. So many of the negative comments were fueled with such vitriol that I had to wonder if they were talking about the same professor I just had, the one who marked down my first paper a bit but then followed it up with a kind and helpful conversation on the phone.
We might not have to worry about students in elementary populating a Rate My Professors-like website with negative comments (just yet), but there are some important contributions in the literature to consider when it comes to the importance of relationship-building in primary. Here are a few:
In a study with a sample of 179 children spanning K-8 that examined the extent to which kindergarten teachers’ perceptions of their relationships with students predicted a range of school outcomes, it was found that relational negativity was strongly related to academic and behavioral outcomes (Hamre & Pianta, 2001). This was particularly true “for children with high levels of behavior problems in kindergarten and for boys generally” (Hamre & Pianta, 2001, p. 625).
In another study on the development of student–teacher relationships in rural early elementary classrooms, Gallagher, Kainz, Vernon-Feagans, and White (2013) found that teachers reported less closeness with African American children at the beginning of the year which predicted the subsequent conflict that emerged between teachers and their African American students over the course of the school year. Gallagher et al., advocated that educators and researchers improve their understanding about how relationships develop between teachers and students over the school year.
Finally, researchers Klem & Connell (2004) related relationships to teacher support, and found that students who perceived teachers as “creating a caring, well-structured learning environment… are more likely to report engagement in school” (p. 270). The researchers also found that elementary students that reported the perception of having teachers who gave low levels of support were twice as likely as the average student to be disengaged in their learning (Klem & Connell, 2004).
Thank you for reading. The mini-literature review that I conducted for this post, as well as my investigation into the status of Rate My Professors, has certainly motivated me to think more closely about each and every student in my 15 classes and their perceptions of my care for them. If you enjoyed the research in this post please say so in the comments below, as it usually takes the most time to complete!
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Gallagher, K. C., Kainz, K., Vernon-Feagans, L., & White, K. M. (2013). Development of student–teacher relationships in rural early elementary classrooms. Early Childhood Research Quarterly, 28(3), 520–528. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ecresq.2013.03.002
Hamre & Pianta, R. C., B. K., & Hamre & Pianta, R. C., B. K. (2001). Early teacher-child relationships and the trajectory of children’s school outcomes through eighth grade. Child Development, 72(2), 625–638.
Klem, A. M., & Connell, J. P. (2004). Relationships Matter: Linking Teacher Support to Student Engagement and Achievement. Journal of School Health, 74(7), 262–273. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1746-1561.2004.tb08283.x