“Well, duh!” was my first response when I saw the title of this article in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, “Can Positive Student-Teacher Relations Improve Math Scores?” (http://www.post-gazette.com/news/education/2014/12/29/Can-positive-student-teacher-relations-improve-math-scores/stories/201412230167). This story focuses on a study being conducted by the Education Development Center called DEbT-M, which stands for Designing for Equity by Thinking in and about Mathematics. This $8,000,000, five-year project (funded by the National Science Foundation) is essentially trying to determine if teachers’ showing an interest in their students as people will help those students to do better in school.
I’m guessing most teachers would argue that this study is totally unnecessary since the answer is patently apparent—of course students will achieve more if they feel more connected to their teachers. As an example, just recently, an ex-student of mine told me that a single conversation I had with him when he was a freshman altered his high school experience significantly. He had to remind me of the incident since it seemed pretty insignificant to me at the time. (I’ve reproduced this earth-shattering drama for you below.)
Me: What extra-curricular activities are you on?
Me: Well, you ought to join the radio station [the activity I sponsored]. You’d have a good on-air voice.
No, he didn’t come out for radio, so I totally forgot about this exchange, memorable though our dialogue was; plus I retired at the end of that school year (his freshman year). But he told me this simple interest and suggestion made him completely reassess his high school goals. That little boost in confidence motivated him to join all kinds of activities in school, and he became a leader of his class. And now he has cured all diseases and will soon unveil a can’t-miss solution to the world’s political strife. Well, maybe not, but anybody who’s taught for more than a couple years can tell you that teachers’ taking the time to get to know their students as people can make a huge difference for many of those students.
So is this study a waste of time and money? No, there are many worse ways to use grant funds in my opinion. I don’t like that they’re connecting teacher/student connections to standardized test results, but I’ve no doubt there will be a positive correlation between teacher interest and student achievement. Anything that helps a kid feel better about going to school every day is a good thing, and one of the best ways to do that is for teachers to show they care about the kids. Perhaps this is just my unique experience, but I’m convinced that connecting with the students is also one of the best ways for teachers to feel better about going to school too. My interest in my students was genuine (which is also important as they can smell hypocritical posturing a mile away), but it was also beneficial for me since it sure did make it more fun to go into the classroom each day.