3 Common Teacher/Student Relationship Misconceptions

Education is responsible for raising the next generation of productive citizens. This is no tiny task. And certainly not one to take lightly. But perhaps the business of education has become too formal. Maybe we, as educators, need to examine the dynamics of the teacher student relationship.

*This video contains graphic language*

This scene is the culmination of the feud between Philip Seymour Hoffman (Mitch) and Robin Williams (Patch). The two medical students operate (nailed that pun) on opposite ends of the spectrum. Mitch sees the relationship between doctor and patient as very sterile. The doctor dictates the “treatment” to the patient. Patch believes that developing relationships with his patients is essential to providing great care. Laughter can indeed be the best medicine.

“…That you think that you have to be a prick to get things done and that you actually think that that’s a new idea.” This is Patch’s comment to Mitch as Patch leaves the room. Then the camera pauses on Mitch for a second as he grapples with this statement.

Implications for Education

Let us explore three Mitchian comments that you hear in education and how Patch might respond to them.

“Don’t smile until Christmas.”

Teachers need to be seen as the person in charge. They have to be firm, set expectations early, and demonstrate that they are in control. Teachers are afraid that if they are nice (smile) they increase the chances of students not respecting them as authority figures.

Patch would argue that the exact opposite is true. Students are more likely to respect rules and authority from those whom they believe care about them.

There is still a prevailing notion that students have to fear teachers in order to respect them. Historically, educators believed that by simply holding the title of “teacher” commanded student compliance.  Well it may be true that students and young people in general should be respectful of teachers and adults, that is not always true.  The best way to earn respect is by showing respect.

When teachers fail to smile or show kindness they miss opportunities to earn students’ respect.  Simply put, students respond best to rules and directions when shared respect exists.  In fact, I have spoken with several students who told me that they will deliberately go out of their way to break rules and disobey directions, because their teacher treated them like they were less than.

“I’m not here to make friends with my students.”

Any relationship that is outside of the stereotypical teacher student one is inappropriate and ineffective. Students come to school to learn. Teachers work at schools to teach.

Patch would argue that learning takes places when students develop positive relationships with their teachers.

If you think back to the teachers that had the greatest impact on you, they worked hard to create meaningful relationships with you. You felt comfortable going to them for help, school related or not. When I think of these teachers, the word “friend” never comes to mind. Invested, caring, empathetic, compassionate, yes. Friend, no.

Failing to form relationships with students because it will lead to friendship is a cop out. Forming relationships takes time. But, investing that time early in the year will yield positive dividends over the long-term.

“If you don’t punish the student, the rest of the class is going learn that it is acceptable to misbehave.”

The classic domino effect. One student gets away with something and now every student is going to mimic that poor behavior.

Patch would contend that every student is different. Every situation is different. To provide generalized consequences would not take into consideration all the factors surrounding a student or an incident.

Educators know that it is 5% of the students that take up 95% of your time. Therefore, the domino effect is proven inaccurate. Other students do not start misbehaving if they perceive a student to have “gotten away” with something. In fact, other students are extremely perceptive and empathetic. They acknowledge how hard educators are working to support struggling students.

The focus should not be placed on worrying about the other 95% of students. The focus should be on the student with the behavior concern. That is why it is extremely important to take into consideration that individual student when applying consequences.

At the end of the day, the goal is to reduce or eliminate the negative behavior. There are no universal strategies that accomplish that for every student. But, when you focus on the individual student, and not how the rest of the class will respond, your consequences/supports are more meaningful.

Patch says it best, ” You treat a disease, you win, you lose. You treat a person, I guarantee you, you’ll win, no matter what the outcome.”

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