Opinion
Teaching Profession Opinion

Student-Teacher Relationships Are Everything

By James E. Ford — January 31, 2017 3 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

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.

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.

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

Archive item reviewed by Maya Riser-Kositsky 7/2/21

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.


Commenting has been disabled on edweek.org effective Sept. 8. Please visit our FAQ section for more details. To get in touch with us visit our contact page, follow us on social media, or submit a Letter to the Editor.


Events

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
Teaching Webinar
What’s Next for Teaching and Learning? Key Trends for the New School Year
The past 18 months changed the face of education forever, leaving teachers, students, and families to adapt to unprecedented challenges in teaching and learning. As we enter the third school year affected by the pandemic—and
Content provided by Instructure
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
Curriculum Webinar
How Data and Digital Curriculum Can Drive Personalized Instruction
As we return from an abnormal year, it’s an educator’s top priority to make sure the lessons learned under adversity positively impact students during the new school year. Digital curriculum has emerged from the pandemic
Content provided by Kiddom
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
Equity & Diversity Webinar
Leadership for Racial Equity in Schools and Beyond
While the COVID-19 pandemic continues to reveal systemic racial disparities in educational opportunity, there are revelations to which we can and must respond. Through conscientious efforts, using an intentional focus on race, school leaders can
Content provided by Corwin

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Teaching Profession We Feel Your Grief: Remembering the 1,000 Plus Educators Who've Died of COVID-19
The heartbreaking tally of lives lost to the coronavirus continues to rise and take a steep toll on school communities.
3 min read
090321 1000 Educators Lost BS
Education Week
Teaching Profession Letter to the Editor Educators Have a Responsibility to Support the Common Good
A science teacher responds to another science teacher's hesitation to take the COVID-19 vaccine.
1 min read
Teaching Profession With Vaccine Mandates on the Rise, Some Teachers May Face Discipline
With a vaccine now fully FDA-approved, more states and districts will likely require school staff get vaccinated. The logistics are tricky.
9 min read
Grace John, who works at a school in San Lorenzo, gets a COVID-19 shot at a mobile vaccination clinic run by the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the state in Hayward, Calif., on Feb. 19, 2021. California will become the first state in the nation to require all teachers and school staff to get vaccinated or undergo weekly COVID-19 testing. The statewide vaccine mandate for K-12 educators comes as schools return from summer break amid growing concerns of the highly contagious delta variant.
Grace John, who works at a school in San Lorenzo, gets a COVID-19 shot at a mobile vaccination clinic in Hayward, Calif. California is among those states requiring all teachers and school staff to get vaccinated or undergo weekly COVID-19 testing.
Terry Chea/AP
Teaching Profession In Their Own Words Why This Science Teacher Doesn't Want the COVID Vaccine
Contrary to public health guidance, Davis Eidahl, an Iowa high school teacher, has no plans to get the COVID-19 vaccine.
4 min read
Davis Eidahl, a science teacher at Pekin High School in Packwood, Iowa, says he doesn't want to get the COVID-19 vaccine. He thinks social distancing and occasional masking will be sufficient to keep himself and others safe.
Davis Eidahl, a science teacher at Pekin High School in Packwood, Iowa, says he doesn't want to get the COVID-19 vaccine. He thinks social distancing and occasional masking will be sufficient to keep himself and others safe.
Rachel Mummey for Education Week