Find your next job fast at the Jan. 28 Virtual Career Fair. Register now.
Opinion
Teaching Profession Opinion

Student-Teacher Relationships Are Everything

January 31, 2017 3 min read

By James E. Ford

I can’t overstate this point. In the classroom, relationships are everything.

I learned this early in my teaching career when I was fortunate enough to return to my alma mater to student teach at Auburn High School, in Rockford, Illinois. It was a special feeling, walking the halls and teaching in many of the same rooms where I’d sat as a student. Once a day I would teach in Mr. Brian Ott’s room. Ott was, and still is, the head boys’ basketball coach and a consummate teacher and mentor to his players. In short, they loved him. During student teaching, Ott would usually leave me to my own devices, but one day he decided stick around to watch. After I finished and the room cleared, I asked, “So, what did you think?”

He said, “Well, the kids like you. Now, you just have to learn how to teach!”

I looked puzzled, not knowing whether to take it as a compliment or critique. He responded quickly by reassuring me. “That’s a good thing,” he said. “They know you care. Once they know that, you can teach them anything.” I have carried Ott’s “order of operations” with me for the rest of my career.

The relational part of teaching may very well be its most underrated aspect. It simply does not get the respect it deserves. Teachers don’t respect relationship-building as an important part of their praxis. When teachers are good at building relationships with students, the skill is seen more as cover for a lack of content knowledge or wherewithal to instruct with rigor.

I see it differently. I’ve learned what Mr. Ott knew so well: when students enter a classroom with so many different base-level needs, a certain foundation has to be laid before true learning can take place.

Most beginning teachers are well-schooled on Benjamin Bloom. We’ve memorized, discussed and written about all of the stages of his taxonomy of the cognitive domain, from Remembering to Creating. In classrooms of our own, we continually push our students to the highest rungs of this cognitive ladder. What we often neglect, however, is that students have needs that transcend academics that must be met for learning to happen. These needs aren’t in the standards or curriculum.


See also: Lessons From the Garden: What Teachers Can Do to Help Vulnerable Students Thrive


Looking for a teaching job?

In just 2 minutes you can sign up for custom job alerts on EdWeek’s job board.

Sign up now >

Psychologist Abraham Maslow knew this. He theorized that there is a hierarchy of needs that humans constantly strive to meet. Our most basic needs begin with the physiological—food, water, rest, safety. Only when these are met can we concern ourselves with higher needs like social skills, education, esteem and self-actualization.

Our first job as teachers is to make sure that we learn our students, that we connect with them on a real level, showing respect for their culture and affirming their worthiness to receive the best education possible. This foundational relationship has allowed me to stretch, embrace and provoke, when necessary, to help my students reach self-actualization. Their learning and high achievement were just the fruits of this labor. But the truth is before the seed is planted, the ground must first be prepared.

In the classroom, Maslow ALWAYS comes before Bloom. If a student is hungry or doesn’t feel safe in school, this will negatively impact

their learning. It’s hard for young people who don’t feel loved or confident in their abilities to truly do their best.

In a time where poverty is rampant, bigotry is widespread and xenophobia has reached a fever pitch, our students may not come hard-wired to perform well. As teachers, it would behoove us to consider the fact that these basic needs don’t disappear at the school building’s threshold. The stuff that impacts society finds its way in our classrooms. Our students bring it with them. To charge ahead believing we’ll just deliver content and neglect the whole-child is a dereliction of duty. Sure, teachers can’t be all things to everyone. We know this. But even for the best instructors, it’s like Mr. Ott told me. Maslow comes before Bloom.

James Ford is the 2015 North Carolina State Teacher of the Year and a member of the National Network of State Teachers of the Year. He currently is the Program Director for the Public School Forum of North Carolina and the Principal at Filling the Gap Educational Consultants, LLC.

Source: Image by Laurie Calvert. Reused with permission from National Network of State Teachers of the Year.

The opinions expressed in Teacher-Leader Voices are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.

Events

School & District Management Webinar Examining the Evidence: Catching Kids Up at a Distance
As districts, schools, and families navigate a new normal following the abrupt end of in-person schooling this spring, students’ learning opportunities vary enormously across the nation. Access to devices and broadband internet and a secure
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
School & District Management Webinar
Branding Matters. Learn From the Pros Why and How
Branding your district matters. This webinar will provide you with practical tips and strategies to elevate your brand from three veteran professionals, each of whom has been directly responsible for building their own district’s brand.
Content provided by EdWeek Top School Jobs
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
School & District Management Webinar
How to Make Learning More Interactive From Anywhere
Nearly two-thirds of U.S. school districts are using hybrid learning right now with varying degrees of success. Students and teachers are getting restless and frustrated with online learning, making curriculum engagement difficult and disjointed. While
Content provided by Samsung

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Elementary Teacher
Madison, Wisconsin
One City Schools
Elementary Teacher - Scholars Academy
Madison, Wisconsin
One City Schools
Special Education Teacher
Chicago, Illinois
JCFS Chicago
Clinical Director
Garden Prairie, IL, US
Camelot Education

Read Next

Teaching Profession Opinion What Your Students Will Remember About You
The best teachers care about students unconditionally but, at the same time, ask them to do things they can’t yet do.
2 min read
Images shows a stylized artistic landscape with soothing colors.
Getty
Teaching Profession High Risk for COVID-19 and Forced Back to Class: One Teacher's Story
One theater teacher in Austin has a serious heart condition and cancer, but was denied the ability to work remotely. Here is her story.
9 min read
Austin High School musical theater teacher and instructional coach Annie Dragoo has three underlying health conditions noted by the CDC as being high-risk for coronavirus complications, but was denied a waiver to continue working from home in 2021.
Austin High School musical theater teacher and instructional coach Annie Dragoo has three underlying health conditions noted by the CDC as being high-risk for coronavirus complications, but was denied a waiver to continue working from home in 2021.
Julia Robinson for Education Week
Teaching Profession Photos What Education Looked Like in 2020
A visual recap of K-12 education in 2020 across the United States.
1 min read
On Sept. 24, 2020, distance learners are seen on a laptop held by teacher Kristen Giuliano who assists student Jane Wood, 11, in a seventh-grade social studies class at Dodd Middle School in Cheshire, Conn. Many schools around the state have closed temporarily during the school year because of students or staff testing positive for COVID-19. Within the first week of November 2020, nearly 700 students and more than 300 school staff around Connecticut tested positive, according to the state Department of Public Health.
Teacher Kristen Giuliano assists Jane Wood, 11, during a 7th grade social studies class in September at Dodd Middle School in Cheshire, Conn., while other students join the class remotely from home.
Dave Zajac/Record-Journal via AP
Teaching Profession Teachers Are Already Getting COVID-19 Vaccines
Some counties in Indiana began vaccinating teachers this week, ahead of schedule.
4 min read
Valerie Kelly, a 5th grade teacher in Vincennes, Ind., receives the first dose of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine on Dec. 28, 2020.
Valerie Kelly, a 5th grade teacher in Vincennes, Ind., receives the first dose of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine on Dec. 28.
Courtesy of Valerie Kelly