Why teacher-student relationship matters?
During my high school days, I remember, I loved my math teacher. For three years on end, we had the same teacher for mathematics. During class hours I felt that the teacher had a special interest in me. She always noticed my movements and commented on my responses. An eye contact with her was enough to raise my spirits. I excelled in maths. Now I am a mathematics teacher. I will not say that I owe my love for math to the cordial relationship with my math teacher. But I am sure, her approach primed my brain to exercise whatever potential I had in maths and motivated me to invest my efforts in studies.
Teacher-student relationship has the power to keep the student focused on studies as well as to distract him/her from it. During the initial phases of school life, when self-regulation in learning is yet to be attained, the learners view the content to be learned and the person who teaches the content as a unified entity. In other words, most students in their school days view their teacher as an integral part of the content he/she teaches. The process of mastering the content is highly influenced by the instructor’s ways of delivering the content.
Why is it so?
The act of scaffolding must be more inclusive
Latest educational perspectives view excellence in teaching as a consequence of the effectiveness of the context in which teaching takes place. The pull of recent trends in educational researches is in this direction. Educational scientists try to extract the contextual factors that are likely to promote or hinder student learning. Inside the classroom, the teacher is the sole designer of the psycho-social context of learning. So research endeavours hinge on socio-emotional dynamics of the teacher-student interface.
How does teacher-student relationship affect the academic performance of the students? Studies in cognitive psychology research could arrive at some radical conclusions regarding this. According to cognitive psychologists a student’s intellect is not the only faculty which makes learning possible. His emotions, feelings, interests, psycho-social needs, wishes, intentions, sense of hope, sense of satisfaction all actively participate in the process of learning and all of them, implicitly, pose as contingencies (conditions) for his performance. Revelation of this led to the formation of better models for teacher-student relationship which promised the optimization of learning and teaching processes.
Invasion of psychology into education and related sciences obliterated many outdated perceptions about teaching. Teaching, viewed as an act of scaffolding the intellectual expansion of the student, according to psychological science, is incomplete and lopsided as well. On the contrary, the act of scaffolding the student for intellectual expansion has to be much more inclusive. Students’ emotional, psycho-social needs must get adequate attention in the process of teaching. Student’s intellect shares its dynamics with his emotions, needs, feelings, instincts, obsessions, etc. All are interconnected. So in the classroom, for the effectiveness of teaching, the socio-emotional needs of the student too must come under the purview of the teacher.
Sensitivity towards the needs of students
World over, the formal schooling system, irrespective of curriculum or the culture it is embedded in, agrees upon the fact that certain chemistry of the relationship teacher shares with students has the potential to motivate the students and to raise their level of performance. It was Deci & Ryan (2000) who put forward an explanation for ‘What kind of teacher-student relationship leads to better educational outcomes’. According to them, a classroom which is not conducive for satisfying basic psychological needs namely autonomy, competence and relatedness will fail to reap the benefits of teaching – however exciting, scientifically crafted, technology-oriented the methodology for delivering the content might be.
Basic Psychological Needs
Autonomy is defined as the need to experience a sense of volition and the self-endorsement of one’s activity.
Competence refers to the need to feel effective in one’s actions.
Relatedness can be understood as the desire to interact and to feel connected with significant others and having a sense of belonging within one’s community (Refer the study by PingyingHu, 2016)
Not all teachers know that inside the classroom, during teacher-student interaction students are always in search of possibilities for the satisfaction of their basic psychological needs. Once the student comes to know that chances of satisfaction of these needs are meagre inside the classroom and his so-called formal relationship with his highly positioned teacher has nothing to do with his inner basic needs, his life energies will conspire to escape from the classroom.
Students’ attention instinctively glues to the contexts which are more responsive to his psycho-social needs. He may find that the playground is a better place to feed his need for autonomy. Peering might be a better option for satisfying his need for relatedness and perhaps mobile gaming or social media might be a place where he can prove his ability and cater to his need for competence. Then the classroom for him becomes a place like a cantonment. Relationship with the teacher will be the least exciting part of his social life. And learning will be the last activity in his list of preferred daily activities.
Self-determination theory by Deci & Ryan (2000) through many empirical studies, has established the fact that the impact of the satisfaction (dis-satisfaction) of innate psychological needs on the motivation of a human being to engage in any behaviour is certain and strong. The studies they conducted in classrooms spanning from kindergarten to universities, reiterated repeatedly that satisfaction of the psychological need for autonomy, competence and relatedness could foster intrinsic motivation, engagement for activities, enhanced performance, persistence, creativity while frustration of the same resulted in diminished motivation and well-being. According to them, these needs are psychological nutrients without which growth and well-being will be stunted.
– the only pathway
Inside the classroom, teaching the students by keeping a tab on their psycho-social needs is not a cakewalk for an instructor. It necessitates a special ‘professional rapport’ with students. Professionals with a growth mindset will always be in search of the kind of rapport which optimizes the learning context for better outcomes. Navigating the day to day classroom activities on this delicate, fragile yet, flexible ‘professional rapport’, however, will definitely increase the receptivity and readiness of the learner exponentially.
Due to its subjective nature, teacher-student rapport evades even the best attempt to define it in technical terms. Hence, one can only talk around it. A teacher who is also a good observer, who values teacher-student interface more than anything else, who regards it as an inevitable tool for motivating the student will finally succeed in striking the right note of ideal rapport between her and the student.
Effective presentation of the content by the teacher can arouse the curiosity of a student. But maintenance of curiosity and interest throughout the learning is a function of the kind of relationship teacher shares with the students. Optimal challenging tasks might give momentary excitement to the students. But it is the quality of interpersonal relationship the teacher keeps with the student which transforms the interest and excitement experienced inside the classroom into better outcomes. The careful planning and hard work the student invests in studies stems directly from the very energy he/she imbibes from the quality relationship he shares with teachers and other significant well-wishers (like parents).
The success of teaching lies not in delivering the content to be taught in the most exciting manner. But it lies in driving emotional as well as, intellectual energies of the student towards the goal to be attained in the end. All theories of learning align with the psychological need theory which claims that each and every action of the human organism is initiated as well as fuelled by some need. Needs precede every action, thought, and behaviour. In other words, an action is a means for the satisfaction of a need not the consequence of it. Try to understand what a person needs,and cater to his needs. He will be more amenable and malleable for moulding. This theory is highly functional and pragmatic in teaching contexts. Know the psycho-social-emotional-intellectual needs of your students. Allow your teaching to conform to those needs. And remember, the only pathway to reach out to students’ needs is the cordial relationship a teacher shares with the students.
1) R. M. Ryan & E. L.Deci. Self –determination theory and the facilitation of intrinsic, social development, and well -being. American Psychologist, 55, No.1, 68- 78, 2000
2) Pingying Hu (2016) The role of basic need satisfaction in English learning a case study at a university in China.
Dr Jeny Rapheal’s qualifications include PhD from Bharathiar University; MSc (Mathematics) from Calicut University; MSc(Psychology) from Madras University; and BEd from Calicut University.
She was a High School Teacher from 1997-2000 at Ansar English Medium School, followed by Higher Secondary School Teacher from 2000-2016 at AIHSS, Padoor. She also did Clinical Counseling for 1 year at Co-operative Hospital Thrissur. She has 20 research papers to her credit.