What is a Teacher to a Student?

As a teacher, how you relate to your students is greatly significant. You could possess a vast and varied wellspring of knowledge in comparison to the less learned minds in your classroom. But, as we all know, if you don’t have the respect and trust of your students, you can certainly curb your effectiveness as a teacher.

So, I ask: “What is a Teacher to a Student?” In other words, how do you appropriately establish this relationship between yourself and your students?

One traditional answer seeks to define the relationship between a teacher and his or her students by way of opposites. For instance, teachers are the source of knowledge, whereas students are recipients of knowledge. Teachers represent an authority, whereas students are subordinates. Although it is important to maintain the respect and control of a classroom, there is one issue with taking this approach to an extreme:

Defining the teacher-student relationship in terms of opposites can create an atmosphere of opposition.

While it’s both important to be regarded as a source of knowledge and as an authority in the classroom, consider these two suggestions on how to stress continuity (rather than opposition) between you and your students.

1. As a teacher, be an advanced student.

The goal of education is not to someday finish. Quite the opposite, teaching requires continued learning. Be clear with your students that you still learn and educate yourself. Communicate with them when you learn from them. There is so much knowledge to be had in the world. It would be false to presume that you cannot pick up insights from your students.

2. Be responsive to the circumstances of your students.

Teaching is often thought of as a unilateral transmission of ideas, but this is so far from the truth. Teaching requires learners, and learning requires teachers. The same message will not necessarily reach every audience. The same style of teaching will not necessarily educate every student. By exercising good judgment and grasping the circumstances of your particular students, you’ll demonstrate a flexibility that allows them to “authorize” how you instruct them.

Although students might not directly realize that your intentions, they will appreciate them. Or, more accurately, they will appreciate you, in your honesty and willingness to engage them where they are.