The Importance of Liking Your Teacher
How important is it for students to like their teachers? The answer to this question seems so obvious. Even asking it makes one wonder if I’ll begin questioning the laws of gravity next. Come now, let us not waste precious time on such an elementary inquiry.
Does it really matter?
Focus of schools
To begin the answer, one can look at how schools focus their attention on initiatives, professional development, and year-long themes. With all the newest teaching trends being bounced about year after year, I doubt a school would focus on teacher-liking. Flipped classrooms, inquiry-based learning, and levels of questioning are instead what gets schools’ attention. Does it matter if students like their teacher?
How often have you seen a year-long theme of schools say something similar to “Let’s Get Kids to Like Us – 2019” or “2019 – The Year Teachers Become Friendly Again”? No, instead schools focus on themes relating to academic rigor, transitioning to the future, or teaching the whole child. Rarely will it ever be the focus of a school or district to get students to like teachers. This, however, is because it is assumed rather than unimportant.
Most teachers, principals, and schools move forward with day-to-day operations on the assumption that students like their teachers and enjoy being in their classrooms. Sure, a handful might not relate well to the teacher. The relationship might even be antagonistic but how many times have parents, as their children get older, told their kids that they won’t always like their teachers? I know I’ve told my children in high school and middle school that their job isn’t to like their teacher but to do the work. It doesn’t matter whether you like your teacher or not. Most schools operate from a percentage mentality and, if 90% of the students like the teacher, then everything is alright.
Unless it is your child that has the poor relationship with the teacher.
Building a salad or a house
Most would agree that student learning as a very complex equation. Rather than one or two elements working together to build learning, there are in fact scores of different factors and variables in play. Student motivation works with curriculum design and the teacher’s instructional choices. Classroom environment affects competency beliefs and the rigor of the instruction. Assessment choices, delivery methods, and many more unknowns all play out in determining whether a certain student does or does not learn. So how does liking the teacher fit in?
Some would argue that liking your teacher has a basic relationship with the other factors that influence learning. That is, liking your teacher is just one component and able to be added or taken away without a large overall difference in effect. Like building a salad, deciding whether or not to add chopped pecans is a matter of preference rather than necessity. One can have a salad without chopped pecans and one can learn with or without liking the teacher.
On the other hand, I believe liking your teacher has a more complex relationship with the other factors. It can greatly enhance or seriously detract from student learning. Think of it as the foundation of a house. When building a house, the construction team spends a good deal of time getting the foundation right. They know that a bad foundation can cause problems for the entire structure. Similarly, liking your teacher oftentimes serves as an emotional foundation. Rather than something added on to other learning variables, teacher-liking is integrated into the very structure of learning. Emotions serve as the gatekeeper for cognition and not liking your teacher can deactivate learning from the start.
In a study conducted over a decade ago, researchers looked at high school students and how their feelings about their teachers affected their motivation and behavior. The results provide evidence for what most already have concluded, namely, that liking one’s teacher makes a significant difference.
The students reported having higher levels of effort and persistence in classes where they liked the teacher. Also, student earned higher report card grades in classes with teachers they liked. In addition, being in a class with a liked-teacher predicted higher levels of mastery goal orientation and students’ perceptions of their own abilities.
Teacher-liking, then, is more than something nice but non-essential. Seeing the role it plays in students’ perceptions, academic behavior, and achievement, liking one’s teacher becomes the starting point for learning. It is the foundation for everything that occurs in the classroom and if that foundation is shaky, everything built upon it will suffer.
Montalvo, G. P., Mansfield, E. A., & Miller, R. B. (2007). Liking or disliking the teacher: Student motivation, engagement and achievement. Evaluation & Research in Education, 20(3), 144-158.