Students at risk — including those with low socioeconomic status or learning problems — benefit more than their peers in having a good relationship with their teacher.
That was the conclusion reached by Debora Roorda in her doctoral dissertation at the University of Amsterdam.
Teachers, however, often appear less friendly and supportive toward disruptive children, even when these children are no less friendly toward the teacher. Furthermore, teachers behave in a more dominating manner toward withdrawn children which causes these children to become even more passive.
Results show that students become more involved and perform better when they experience a good student-teacher relationship, especially as students get older.
A personal relationship with the teacher is particularly important for those with a low socioeconomic status, students with learning difficulties and for boys.
“Teachers could, for example, show that they are interested in the children and care about them. In addition to this it is important that teachers provide opportunities for the children’s own input,” said Roorda, whose study was backed in part by the Netherlands Organization for Scientific Research.
The link between positive, warm relationships and more involvement and improved school performance is greater in secondary education than in primary education. However, for students in primary education a negative student-teacher relationship that is full of conflicts has a stronger negative effect on involvement and school performance.
“The negative consequences of a poor relationship in primary education make it even more important still to intervene at an early stage if the relationship between a teacher and pupil is not going well,” said Roorda.
“Interestingly, teachers are less friendly and supportive towards disruptive children even though these children are not less friendly towards the teacher. Teachers also act in a more dominating manner towards withdrawn children as a result of which these children become even more passive still.
“In addition to this, the children also respond in a less friendly manner if the teachers are more dominant,” said Roorda.
The teachers followed by taking a course in interpersonal skills to learn how to improve their relationships with withdrawn children.
“The training had no effect on the children, but it did influence the teachers,” said Roorda. “We observed that after the course, teachers were less dominant and consequently more opportunities arose for the child’s own contribution.”