Student-teacher relationships are vital to students’ good academic performance

Harvard University’s Roland Fryer recently published the results of a study he conducted on the effects of two different methods of teaching elementary school students. Platooning is a method of teaching where teachers are specialised in a particular subject and students switch teachers for each class. Conversely, Looping is a term used when students keep the same teacher for two years in a row. They don’t switch teachers for each subject and don’t switch each year.

Tyrone Howard, a professor of education at the University of California, Los Angeles, said that Fryer’s study and other similar studies are important because “they tell us that teacher-student relationships matter”. He said that often, schools “jump right into academics and really dismiss or minimise the importance of relationships.”

Fryer’s study found that students who were taught by specialised teachers had worse reading and mathematics scores than those who had been taught by a single teacher. More troubling was the higher rate of suspensions and absences in schools that tried the platooning method of teaching.

Thus, the ostensible benefits of specialisation were outweighed by the fact that teachers had fewer interactions with each student. This means that there was no one teacher who was minding each student throughout the whole day or providing continuous emotional support. Conversely, in schools that practiced the Looping method of teaching, the increased student-teacher familiarity lead to higher test scores.

The influence of relationships on learning has also been the subject of many studies over the years. Professor Howard cited the example of a 1997 study that found that early teacher-student relationships at the start of elementary school determined how students felt about school and their academic performance. A recent May 2018 study also corroborated the importance of student-teacher relationships when it found that college students learn less when faced with antagonistic teachers. Professor Howard then said when it comes to learning, “you can’t get to the content if the relationship and the social-emotional well-being piece is not being attended to first”.

I completely agree with Professor Howard. Sometimes, in our quest for academic excellence, we may forget that students are human beings too. Building a strong relationship with each and every student should not take less precedence because motivation and emotional well-being are crucial to effective learning. This is why AFEA’s methods of teaching stresses on building a good rapport with students and aims to inculcate inquisitiveness and passion for learning.

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