The Social Teacher
This is the third in this series of Newsletters on the needs and drives of students and how this relates to their learning. By now you should be conscious of the destructive power of rejection which is particularly potent for developing children. This is when they are forming their sense of self.
Your acceptance is also critical when it comes to learning new work. We all find it stressful when we are confronted with problems for which we have no answer. Kids find this as well, especially those who have no self-confidence. When they will feel supported they are more likely to approach that new work.
The illustration above shows the connection. If there is no relationship between the teacher and the student the student must face the lesson alone with only their existing memories to help them. As this is a stressful situation the child is doubly disadvantaged because the increased emotional arousal makes cognitive thinking all the more difficult. This is a dysfunctional situation.
However, if the teacher and the student have a supportive relationship then the student goes to the new work supported and importantly feeling protected and safe. These are the conditions for future learning.
For children with a healthy sense of self, this connection is important especially in the early years. If you have children, you probably got sick of hearing just how much Ms Smith knows more than you. Infants need to have that strong bond.
As they mature and develop their own sense of self the relationship becomes progressively less important and by the time they reach their senior years and into tertiary studies the teacher’s ability to facilitate the information to be learnt is more important than the relationship. The graphic above illustrates this point.
In the primary school the relationship needs to be strong as indicated by the line between the teacher and student. In secondary the relationship becomes a little less important and the need to connect socially with their peers becomes more important (see Newsletters Tribal Teacher, 29 July 2019 and Tribal Classroom, 1 August 2018). The teacher needs to expand the feeling of connectedness beyond being more directly involved with the student. By the time students reach their senior secondary years and into their post school learning even this relational situation becomes less important. They are more focused on the establishment of intimate relationship and in most cases, if the go to university they may well be in a class on over 100 students and never talk to their teachers, in fact I believe most don’t even attend and watch an online versions of the lecture.
However, for those children who have been raised to develop a toxic sense of their ‘self’ the strength of the relationship remains essential throughout their schooling.
Almost without exception, when you ask any of your friends they will have had at least one teacher that they really connected with, that inspired them. Conversely, if you think about your own schooling there will be teachers who made no connection and even made you loath their lessons. For me, it was Smithy (real name) who inspired me and an un-mentionable maths teacher who is at the heart of my fear of mathematics!
You have to understand that every day you can be either of those teachers depending on how you relate to them. If you are reading this, I’m pretty sure I know what type you are but it is worth reminding ourselves that this is a profession and you are obliged to build a positive relationship with all your students particularly those whose behaviour towards you initiates a natural repugnance. These are the children, and by now we know why they behave that way that need you to accept them. Ironically, although they are hard to like, they remain suspicious of any attempt they perceive to be kindness, if you hang in with a genuine effort they are the ones who crave attention the most and the ones who thrive when someone believes in them.
You need to be that teacher who, to paraphrase Barack Obama has got the heart, the empathy, to recognise what it’s like to be a young teenage mum, have been traumatised in early childhood, to have seen parents fight, part or die. You will have all these kids and more in your class and you have the most precious gift, you can be that teacher who allows them to move into a healthy life. What a privilege.