Whatever age or stage the students you teach are at, it can be your relationship with them that dictates their educational success – or failure. For our youngest children, if they don’t like you or they are afraid of you, they will cry and hold on to mummy. The older ones are highly likely to choose a subject to study at GCSE because they like – or don’t like – their teacher.
As in all other areas of our social worlds, relationships with students can go well and they can go badly. Unlike in our personal lives, however, when the going gets tough, we can’t just walk away. Friday afternoon will still arrive, and that class will still turn up.
There are lots of ways that teachers can improve, or even create, positive relationships with their classes: quizzes and games; things that you fit into little bits of time, like on the days when for some unknown reason everything is finished and packed away and there is still five minutes to go ’til the bell; shared experiences such as trips or stories; even shared rewards (I held a secret student competition with one particularly tricky class once). They all contribute to creating a class that “gels”.
Growing over time
And children are taken by teachers who give a little of themselves. When I was pregnant, my class loved the fact that I put my scan picture on the wall (every assembly they would have an argument over whether it would be a boy or a girl as they lined up and snaked past it). In later years, they viewed my family snapshots with rounded eyes, agog that I should be a mummy, too (and know about Minecraft and popular YouTubers).
Sometimes, though, it is not with the class but with individuals that we need to do a bit of relationship-building – or rebuilding. It can be hard sometimes (teachers are emotional beings, too) to put aside the things that have happened that damaged our relationships with individuals. Continuous positive regard works, but it is not always easy. Forgiveness, while essential, can be as difficult for an adult as for a child.
But on occasions when I’ve worried over what to do for an entire evening and into the night, a comment from a long-gone safeguarding trainer has sprung to mind. “You know those ones who are never away?” she asked (we nodded, smiled and laughed ruefully). “There’s a reason for that. It’s you.”
Nancy Gedge is a consultant teacher for the Driver Youth Trust, which works with schools and teachers on SEND. She is the Tes SEND specialist, and author of Inclusion for Primary School Teachers. She tweets @nancygedge