In one of my first weeks of teaching, through a series of unfortunate events, poor lesson planning and overly enthusiastic students, I ended up with egg all over my brand-new dress pants. It was horrible and incredibly humiliating. The students were laughing so hard that the students and teachers from the surrounding classrooms came in to see my devastation.
As students, teachers, parents, and communities get ready to return to school in a few days, I have reflected on my early teaching disasters. After the cleanup of the egg incident, my classroom got better. Not that my teaching was improved, but that the students had a connection with me. Somehow the egg on the teacher’s pants shifted the student-teacher relationship. Leading up to the return of the school, there are dozens of suggestions of how to best prepare students and teachers for the first days of school. From sleep routines to school supplies to academic behaviors, all these ideas are good, but I’m not sure they will lead to desired results.
I believe the most important practice at the start of the school year is fostering and improving student-teacher relations. Dr. Sara Rimm-Kaufman and Lia Sandilos explained that students with strong and positive relationships with their teachers are most likely to attain higher levels of success. As an educator, this conclusion makes sense. If a student has a teacher that cares about them, then the student will be more likely to succeed in the class. Further, if a teacher knows that students enjoy their class, the teacher will be more likely to attempt complicated high impact teaching strategies.
The onus of relationship building falls on students and teachers alike. One easy starting point is learning each other’s names. This is mandatory for teachers. You need to know every student’s name. But the same goes for the students. Last May a student addressed me as Mr. “Bumboy”. For the record, not my name. Dale Carnegie said “A person’s name is to that person, the sweetest, most important sound in any language.”
Years ago, a teacher told me, she did not have the time for learning names or building relationships. I could not disagree more. Relationships matter in education. Teachers need to make an effort to create a positive environment in their classrooms. For example, one of the greatest challenges in education today is attendance. And numerous studies demonstrate the link positive student-teacher relationships with higher attendance rates. If a few moments of relationship building could make a student attend more, then teachers should be doing it. Taking a little time in a class to get to know students will yield positive dividends. Greeting all students at the door of the class before they walk in is an excellent simple way for teachers to connect with students. The ultimate relationship builder is the positive phone call home. But that is a serious time commitment.
Parents and students have a role in fostering positive relationships, too. There is new research coming out of the University of Missouri that shows positive student teacher relationships lead to better instruction by the teacher. As a parent, I love the idea that I can impact the classroom instruction for my children in a positive way just by building a good relationship with my children’s teachers. One of the ways that I have seen students make connections with their teachers is saying thank you at the end of the day or class period. Thank you is so easy, but rare. Teachers love thank you’s. A harder but more effective method is for students to give a positive comment about something on a teacher’s desk. The little connections go a long way for the teachers.
As communities start sending students to school again, I hope that teachers, children, and parents all remember the importance of positive relationships in the classroom. If we forget, we wouldn’t just have egg on our pants, it will be all over our faces too.
John Brumbaugh has been a teacher for 10 years. He works at Clearfield High School — Go Falcons! — and is a member of the Davis Education Association Executive Board, a Davis Teacher Fellow and a Hope Street Fellow.