Monday, March 14, 2011

Bonds Between Teachers and Students

Occasionally, I find myself agreeing with David Brooks. The other day on NPR, he was talking about his most recent book in which, apparently, he has discovered that emotions and our nature as a social animal matter. He talked about the need to apply this fact to policymaking. For example, he seemed to suggest that the emotional bonds among teachers and students are important considerations. I spoke aloud to my car radio, alternating between "hear, hear" and "d'uh".

In my own experience, whenever I felt that my teacher genuinely cared about me, even loved me, it made all the difference in the world. Like my peers, I was sensitive to indifference and hostility, and the benefit that I derived from school was vastly greater when I had teachers with whom I felt an emotional bond. These were the sort of teachers who continued to manifest an interest in me long after I had left their grade assignment.

If we accept the premise that these emotional bonds between teachers and students matter, I wonder why we insist for the most part in having teachers assigned to a single grade where they are limited (except for failures) to having students for a single academic year. Wouldn't it make more sense to have teachers follow their students for several years through three or four grade levels? That way, deeper bonds could develop, and teachers could really get to know their students and their families. In the current system, teachers barely get to know the children (and vice versa) before they lose them and start over with a batch of strangers. And children are confronted with the unknown every September. We're squandering the hugely important emotional factor.

Of course, it would be hellish to be stuck with a hostile or indifferent teacher for 3 or 4 years at a stretch or for a teacher to be saddled with a class of dolts. Presumably, a school district which adopted an approach which promoted bonding would also arrange to weed out teachers who didn't develop bonds with the kids. And maybe longitudinal exposure to a group of children would help indifferent teachers to form attachments with their pupils.

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