By VICKI ZAKRZEWSKI
If I asked you to tell me what you remembered most about your favorite teacher growing up, I bet you wouldn’t say much about the subject matter. Instead, I’d expect you to describe how he or she made you feel as you learned that subject matter—the sense of excitement or discovery you felt, or the safety to take chances and make mistakes, or the confidence that you were valued as a human being, warts and all.
According to research, few factors in education have a greater impact on a student’s educational experience than a caring relationship with his or her teacher.
One researcher described it this way: Imagine two teachers teaching the same lesson on poetic construction. One is very impatient with students and the other supportive. Knowing only that, we can probably guess which students learned the lesson better.
Science has found that students who have caring relationships with teachers are academically more successful and show greater “pro-social” (or kind, helpful) behavior. A caring teacher can transform the school experience especially for students who face enormous difficulties, such as dropping out or dysfunctional home lives. One student who faced these kinds of hardships told a researcher that the greatest thing a teacher can do is to care and to understand. “Because if not,” he said, “the kid will say, ‘Oh, they’re giving up on me, so I might as well give up on myself.’”
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