The Emotional Bond between Teachers and Students: Multi-Year Relationships

Article excerpt

From her own experience as a secondary teacher in the People's Republic of China, Ms. Liu concludes that multi-year student/teacher relationships yield obvious benefits and are worth trying in the U.S.

One of the most frequently asked questions in the education courses I teach is, What one thing might help reduce the wide variety of problems in U.S. secondary schools? Of course, no single idea is going to be a panacea for all the problems of secondary schooling in the U.S. But from my experience teaching secondary school in the People's Republic of China for nearly 10 years, I can suggest one approach that has great potential for helping to improve both the academic and the social/emotional environments of secondary schools: create multi-year teacher/student relationships.

The importance of the relationships between teachers and students is crucial to students' academic and psychological development.(1) And the longer Such relationships last, the better the chance they have of exerting a positive influence on the students. Thus a multi-year system makes conceptual sense.

But can the American education system adapt itself to handle such a change? After all, throughout the history of American education, curricula have been divided and organized by distinct subject matters, especially at the secondary level.(2) As a result of this fragmentation, artificial barriers have been constructed between teachers and between teachers and students. According to Robert Rubinstein, the U.S. is one of only a few education systems in the world in which students are required to rush from one period to the next in response to an unyielding academic schedule.(3) This organization causes students to feel more like tourists in a school than like citizens of the school. And a single class period is often the sole contact students have with the teacher.

American students start to lose the sense of school community from their first day of middle school. A large number of students who have grown accustomed to the feeling of belonging, the feeling of family, and the feeling of being taken care of in elementary school are lost. Consequently, an increasing number of teenagers look elsewhere to find this sense of belonging. Too often, gangs fill this need.

In China's schools, the bonding of students to other students and students to teachers is enhanced through the structure of the school. Students are divided into groups or classes at the beginning of their elementary years (first through sixth grades), their junior high years (seventh through ninth grades), and their senior high years (10th through 12th grades). They remain in the same class with the same classmates for all their years at each level, they use the same classroom all year long, and they change classrooms only from year to year. Students are responsible for keeping the classrooms neat, and, in exchange, they enjoy the freedom to decorate their classrooms and make them their home base.

Years of learning together help students form lasting relationships with many of their classmates. Observations in Chinese schools reveal that many students use their classroom as a gathering place before and after school because they feel that the physical setting belongs to them.

For faculty members in secondary schools, two types of structures exist. One is a subject-driven departmentalized structure in which faculty members are organized according to their academic disciplines. The other is a student-oriented structure in which faculty members who teach the same grade share the same office and form grade-level groups. In both cases, the people who rush through the halls are teachers, hurrying from their offices to classrooms. Organization by grade is more widely practiced, and faculty members often prefer to remain in their grade groupings for the entire three years of junior or senior high school. In addition to helping with students' personal development, such an arrangement offers academic benefits for both faculty members and students. …