Teacher-Student Connections — Why Should You Bother?

Teacher-Student Connections — Why Should You Bother? cover image

As a first-year teacher, I spent one full morning in front of multiple ninth grade classes who never told me my sweater was on backward. Before you assure me that perhaps they simply didn’t notice, IT HAD POCKETS! They noticed. Probably they were making fun of me through upside-down number words on their calculators. (It wasn’t, after all, a math class. Why else did they have them out?)

It was a struggle forging relationships that year. My kids didn’t like to get too close to teachers; they told me the ones they cared about always left them, and they assumed I would do the same. So, it was especially poignant the afternoon one of my seniors sweetly reached up and rubbed some ink off of my forehead with her thumb.

This brings me to the first benefit of building strong relationships with students….

1. They will tell you if you have dry erase marker on your face.

ross from friends marker on face

We all need at least one kid in the room who’ll do that much for us. After all, there are usually also a few kids ready to whip out their phones and make a quick meme of the teacher trailing toilet paper from her shoe. In this environment, it’s essential to form alliances!

2. They’ll look out for you when you’re stressed.

Your trusted allies in the classroom will not just notice the more obvious clues like your mismatched shoes; they’ll know instinctively when you’re fantasizing about your new career at Dairy Queen, and they will intervene.

I thought my usually raucous class was playing a trick on me one day when they walked in, somber as pallbearers, and then stayed library-quiet for an entire class period. As it turned out, they had conspired to give me a nice day after nearly driving me from the profession the day before.

3. Once they’ve decided they like you, they will defend you at any cost.


When you receive a phone call reminding you to enter your absences, they will threaten to “clack” the attendance clerk if she dares come for you. You will talk them down, of course. You will assure them that no clacking of the sweet lady in the front office will be necessary, and you will quietly smile in the knowledge that these feral teenagers will always keep you safe.

4. They will tip you off when trouble is brewing.

Newsflash! The kids KNOW when a fight is in the works; it’s the teachers who are usually clueless. Last week, one of my students quietly whispered to me, “They’re planning a fight during second lunch.” I thanked him and asked for names, then raced to share the intel with administration. Second lunch came and went, and an email flashed upon my screen. Subject line: “Fight squashed.” Boom. No one got hurt or suspended that day, and I felt smoother than Prince.

5. They will WORK for you!

Students who haven’t lifted a pencil all year will suddenly start producing for a teacher who manages to reach them. “But HOW can I reach them?” you may be asking. The complicated truth is that it’s different for everyone, and it takes time. Tell the reserved guy you love his Kid ‘n Play hair — because YOU DO! Convince the constant observer to play Banquo’s ghost in 3rd period’s rendition of Macbeth. (“There are no lines!” you’ll remind him. “Just look ominous!”) Let the habitually absent girl know that you miss her when she’s not there. The little moments matter; make the most of them.

6. They will reaffirm your faith in humanity.


“You… are… all… terrible human beings!” Those were the words I stupidly mustered one afternoon when I stumbled into a disturbing display of barbarism in a student common area. I was rushing to class when I saw a girl, crying, on the ground, having just fallen. She was surrounded by ten or so boys, all with their phones out, recording her and laughing. You can imagine how my words stirred the hearts and souls of these young men. “You’re a terrible human being!” they began repeating to one another, laughing. I cleared them out, helped the girl, and stood there for a moment, shell-shocked, before a painfully shy student from one of my own classes walked over and, without a word, hugged me. Her gesture, I decided, was my takeaway that day, the message I chose to dwell upon: a message of quiet grace and understanding in a world that had stopped making sense.

7. They will remind you why you’re there, on those days when you feel like giving up.

It could be a current student who commiserates with you and urges you to keep going or students from your past who show back up when you least expect them, but when you need them most.

You know those kids from my first year, the year I wore my pockets on my back? They’re nurses now. They’re managers. They’re touring hip-hop artists who FaceTime me when I’m making pancakes to tell me they’re going to be a dad. I have shared a toast with some of them; I have attended their baby showers.

Those strong teacher-student connections transcend time and place. And long after I’ve forgotten that a kid never came prepared, or that I used to have to remind them every day to sit in their assigned seat, I will still remember their smile. I’ll still remember how they would say, “Ms. White, I’m sorry,” and then they’d try to do better. I’ll still remember how we both teared up when we caught each other’s eye at graduation. And I will always, always carry them in my heart.


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I'm a public high school teacher specializing in English and Theatre Arts. On any given day, I summon the energy five times in a row to fire kids up about Shakespeare or semi-colons or the virtues of getting to class on time; then I move all of the desks out of the way and rehearse the school play in a building with no actual theatre. I love my kids, and I love teachers, and celebrating them is one of my favorite things in life. At night, I write.

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