Teacher-Student Relationships: Do Primary Schools Do It Better?

A teacher’s take on building positive teacher-student relationships…

Not many teachers (or students!) would argue against a happy classroom. A learning environment in which students are engaged and feel supported. A positive environment that leads to higher academic achievement. A friendly classroom. Quality student-teacher relationships that improve not only learning, but the whole education experience.

So, after reading Kath Murdoch’s post “Do you know me well enough to teach me?” I had the thought, perhaps Primary Schools do the whole ‘relationships thing’ better than High Schools do. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not criticising High School teachers; actually I think there might be a few things that stop them from developing the same quality, positive relationships with their students as their Primary counterparts…

 1.       Not enough contact time… Aka. “I only see them a few times a week!”
Primary School teachers see their students almost all day, every day. Primary School teachers have all the time in the world to ‘start the year slowly’. We could give up a whole month to building relationships, developing a class culture, developing norms and protocols and getting to know our students. Some High School teachers might see their students for just a couple of hours a week. When, then, is all this ‘relationship building’ supposed to occur? Besides, wouldn’t a teenager’s parents be outraged if they found out their child has spent all that time on the warm and fuzzies, rather than actual learning?! Also, we can’t forget the fact that High School teachers have many students in many classes, whereas the average Primary teacher has just 25.

 2.        The importance of relationships is taken for granted… Aka. “They’re teenagers. They shouldn’t need that warm and fuzzy crap!”
This follows on from point 1 I suppose. By the time kids are High School students, the onus is placed firmly on them to be engaged with their learning, their peers, their teachers. When kids are little we actually teach them explicitly how to make friends and teachers spend an awful lot of time getting to know each child personally, as people, not just learners. We do this so that we’re invested in their development and that they know this. We do this so that we can personalise the learning experience for them. Teenagers should just got on with their work, shouldn’t they?

 3.       The students are over it… Aka. “Teenagers hate everyone and everything!”
Yep, teenagers are surly zombies! The only thing they like about school is their friends, if they’re lucky enough o have some. They hate learning. They hate homework. They hate adults –  their teachers and heck, they hate their parents most of all! How on Earth is some daggy teacher meant to get through to these grumpy beings?

 4.       Teachers aren’t there to be their students’ best friend… Aka. “I need to maintain the power”
We all experienced a Miss Trunchbull-type teacher at some time during our own schooling. There’s a growing body of research that says the way to get through to students is through building positive relationships, featuring a few key ingredients. Care. Warmth. Empathy. Respect. Trust. This is at loggerheads with the traditional description of a teacher. Dare I say, if a teacher has quality relationships with their students comprising such ingredients, it does away with the need for ‘power’.

Anyway, High School teachers, I’d love to hear your thoughts! Like I said, it certainly isn’t an attack. What barriers stand in your way, building relationships with your students? If you’ve broken the mould and do have great relationships with your students, how have you done it?

There’s a whole lot of articles, blog posts and research to read on the topic of Teacher-Student Relationships. Click here, here, here, here, here or here to read more!

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More on ‘relationships’ from Teachling:
A teacher’s take on parent-teacher relationships…
A teacher’s take on respecting teachers, pt2…
A teacher’s take on respecting teachers, pt1…
A teacher’s take on earning respect from students… 

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7 thoughts on “Teacher-Student Relationships: Do Primary Schools Do It Better?

  1. I think an important aspect of teaching primary school children, as you say, is helping them to develop social skills. The time spent in doing this and in developing a positive classroom environment is time well spent and more easily done when a teacher is with the same group of children most of the week.
    As you assert, the culture of a high school is quite different, and maybe that is one reason for students being disengaged. While there are many high school teachers who work hard to create those positive relationships, it must be more difficult when they may work with upwards of 100 students each week. Maybe a “home” group with a “home” teacher responsible for the welfare of the students may help to improve the situation. I know many schools have programs such as these in place. I also look forward to reading the responses of high school teachers.

  2. “Upwards of 100 students each week” Well yes – about 220 in my case…
    It inevitably makes a difference – but the priorities are different. I see each stage of schooling as reflecting the growing individuality of the person on the one hand and the progressive weaning of them off the support networks of their youth on the other. Late-teens are easier to know as they have the most distinct personalities; 11 year-olds are just a sea of almost-identical faces (at least to being with) when you only see them for one or two hours a week. we have a system of tutor groups and school ‘houses’ to help them link to smaller groups. We need to with 1800 in the school.

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