Teacher-Student Relations in the Modern World
Science and its technical outputs are changing at such a dizzying pace that it is sometimes difficult to follow. New phones, which are in fact almost miniaturised computers, tablets and smartphones with their sophisticated functions are all taking over the world of mass media and the realm of communication at such a rate that it is difficult for us adults to keep up.
It turns out, however, that for modern children, it's all pretty ordinary. Kids as young as six-year-olds are surprised that they play all sorts of computer games, but "my teacher doesn’t know how to play it, can you believe that??" Small fingers move across the screen, the game attracts attention and the child starts to live in a virtual world, one so very different from ours! The little one says: "Did you know that Batman can fly?". You try to explain that Batman doesn't really exist, that it's just a movie, that it's a made-up story... The child replies: "but I know that he can, I saw it on TV that he flies, he really did fly! And Spider - Man turns into a spider and walks on ... walls; I'll be like that too ...". The child believes that they are right, and nothing will convince them otherwise!
We, the teachers, ask children to draw, and they can’t get the hang of it; we ask them to learn a poem, which is boring to them; we tell them to pay attention during lessons, to learn how to read, to master the art of multiplication, English vocabulary, pronunciation and phrases, to do their homework ... yet for them it is far more interesting to play a computer game, to move a finger across the screen instead of squeezing a pencil until their hand is sore from writing. There is also the line "I'm so bad at this; I just don’t know how ..." and tears in their eyes. Just a few years ago, the teacher knew everything, knew how to do it all, was advising, showing, and now?
On the other hand though, we have a basic advantage: Batman won't comfort them, he won't stroke their head, he won't say that it's all good, that he's proud of this child, he won't say, "I like you too, and I enjoy talking to you!". It becomes apparent that it is precisely these types of relationships, especially those based on a child's emotions, his or her self-esteem and sense of self-worth, that determine our own strengths, our authority and, finally, our influence on the children and young people who are our students.
Apart from the ‘information revolution’, the social structure has also changed, and along with it, the status of the family, its character, size, etc. Traditional professions have slowly begun to disappear, working hours have changed, and it is very common for both parents to be in work. More and more often we can hear parents complain that they do not have time to ... take care of their children (kindergarten open until 5-6 pm; school – then afterschool club; extracurricular activities) and how often there is no control over what the children do, what they watch on TV and how they use their computers! There are instances where children and young people come across a negative social phenomena too early (alcohol, drugs, violence, overly explicit sex, pornography, etc.; kids as young as 12 are already posting their nude pictures online!). Growing aggression and bullying have been observed in schools as early as 2nd-3rd grade (mobile phone recordings, dissemination of photomontages in order to ridicule, tease or humiliate peers – at times it’s actually one of the forms of compensating for a sense of low self-esteem and an attempt to attract attention).
How can you prepare children and young people for this crazy world? And who is it that should prepare them – the school or the parents?
For several years now, there have been voices heard from teachers (media, meetings, etc.) that schools have no time or opportunity to contribute to the upbringing of their students! Parents should take care of the upbringing, while teachers are employed in schools to teach. Therefore professionals are washing their hands of the issue, letting amateurs take care of the upbringing. The author believes that there is something wrong with this kind of professionalism. Let us examine this statement further.
In Poland, school is defined as an educational and upbringing institution established by the state to implement the didactic and educational goals clearly defined in the relevant acts of law.
On one side we have children and young people (pupils), on the opposite side - teachers. There are specific social interactions occurring between them (amongst others: informing, explaining, demanding, controlling, evaluating, rewarding, punishing, creating an emotional atmosphere, etc.) (Włodarski & Hankała, 2004).
In the early stages of children’s education teachers play a significant role as figures of authority, which should also be the case as the children grow older, (Reykowski, 1967) on account of the fact that:
- they spend long periods of time with children and young people, while having an influence on their actions;
- they provide patterns of behaviour - they act as role models;
- they are the instigators of attitudes - they present specific systems of requirements (moral, social or legal norms, standards of knowledge on a specific subject, etc.);
- they are a source of penalties and rewards;
- they are bonded with children and young people within an emotional relationship of varying type and intensity (it should be really positive, not just declared to be as such).
Therefore, no matter what teachers do, they CONTRIBUTE TO THE UPBRINGING of their pupils (for better or for worse!). As significant individuals, teachers have a great influence on shaping personality mechanisms (attitudes, value system, needs, defence mechanisms, etc.) in children and adolescents, i.e. they greatly determine the quality of the upbringing processes and the effects of a particular style of upbringing.
During the several years of their stay in educational institutions (kindergartens, schools of various levels), children and young people adjust their behaviour to the standards, requirements and regulations in force - so there is a well-known phenomenon of succumbing to influence, i.e. the phenomenon of conformism (Stanisławiak, 2003; Aronson, 2008).
- If children and young people do not feel our acceptance (we accept a person, but not always their behaviour!) and are not liked by teachers, and the latter operate mainly through penalties, then succumbing to influence is purely external and submissiveness disappears when there is a lack of supervision. Influence is short-lived and norms of behaviour are 'foreign', imposed (and the pupil is an ‘external control’ person).
- If children and adolescents feel accepted, teachers are attractive to them for various reasons, there is a mechanism of identification - the influence of educators is strong and long-lasting, and norms of behaviour become their own, (there is a gradual internalisation, an autonomous value system is formed).
- If there are good two-way interactions based on the partnership, there is a significant degree of lasting educational change based on the mechanism of internalisation (internal absorption of norms).
The influence of teachers as role models is particularly important and most visible at lower levels of education, i.e. in primary schools, especially amongst the pupils of primary school grade 1 through to primary 3. It is during this period that pupils are shaping values based on the teacher’s conduct (Kozielecki, 1995; Reykowski, 1970). Among others, these include the following:
- their attitude towards work and responsibilities (the teacher is prepared for the lesson, fairly assesses, sets expectations proportionally to pupils’ abilities, offers them a chance to correct mistakes - he or she navigates pupils towards what is important, what needs to be readdressed; is true to his or her word, etc.).
- their ability to overcome difficulties (e.g. "hmm, you didn't quite get it right, try again, it will get better" etc, rather than "your writing looks like chicken scratch" and merely awarding one bad grade after another),
- children's attitude towards other people - peers and adults alike (e.g. teachers speaking to children with respect, acknowledging their dignity, instead of using offensive epithets: dunce, nincompoop and others; not addressing pupils with snark, mockery, etc.), children start to have the attitude towards other people that the teacher has – a model for children (pro-social motivation, sympathy, empathy, etc., or the lack of it)
- active attitude in the processes of learning, in the classroom, at school, in life (appropriate selection of required readings and discussing it with pupils, allowing independence, encouraging action, etc.). - This leads to the formation of a proper cognitive motivation, encourages reflection and independent thinking.
- their general attitude towards the world - it is about an open, positive attitude, not basing their actions on the fear of failure or fear of punishment.
This is not an exhaustive list of problems and expectations, but merely a signal that shows how complicated the problem of teacher-pupil relations really is.
Young people enter into higher levels of education with quite clearly defined, but not yet established attitudes, expectations and habits. The right ones should be reinforced, the wrong ones - from the educational (social) point of view- should be corrected (we must not ignore it, we must not be indifferent to rudeness, aggression, impudence, etc.; lack of reaction is a type of PERMISSION), but doing so is extremely difficult!
Reinforcements, i.e. punishments and rewards, are of particular importance in the educational process in schools. Many teachers and parents assume that it is the duty of children and young people to learn, and that there should be no rewards for doing so ("after all, it is normal that they have to learn", "give them the lowest marks, soon enough they will understand what they have to do!"). This is not the right approach. We must show that we see and appreciate their effort, enjoy their achievements, understand that they may be fatigued, etc. It means that we are raising the bar and "giving them wings" at the same time - we shape the need for achievements. It is enough for the teacher to show satisfaction, praise, etc. in addition to giving a good grade (Reykowski, 1970).
Too often, a negative assessment at school is lacking its informational value. If we do not know why we have been badly assessed, how can we change and what can we improve? Therefore it must be taken into account, that we all (regardless of age and situation) learn by making mistakes and correcting them. Behind each negative grade there should be an explanation as to the reasons for it, and an opportunity to improve it (several times I have come across the situation where the Teachers' Councils have passed a resolution that a student cannot correct a negative assessment - "they must come well prepared for the test first time round" - I leave this decision without any comment; I will add that parents have challenged this resolution and it has been annulled, but none of us would like to go to such a school!) (Skrzyński & Janiszewska, 2004).
It is worth remembering that if we are judged by a teacher who does not like us and whom we do not like, we tend to treat negative assessment (comment, remark) as unfair, unreasonable; we often feel sense of injustice (and even more so when the judgement really is unjust). This can lead to anxiety, withdrawal and, in some cases, to aggression.
It is also worth remembering: if reinforcements are formalised (e.g. "a student interferes with the lesson"), deprived of emotional involvement (e.g. "Smith - you managed" and not "Jane - fantastic!"), then children and young people feel like objects that are manipulated by teachers and not like individuals, subjects, people. Being an object (e.g. "number 15 – your turn to answer"! - is the school a prison?!) make us feel dehumanised. This causes within us, regardless of our age, rightful rebellion and opposition, and in young people the desire to “bite back”, or “compensate” (young people “bite back” mainly on weaker colleagues, and sometimes on helpless teachers).
I have omitted many important, significant problems in the process of education, such as the content of teaching (ethics, religion; protagonists of the discussed literature, poetry, history, etc.) containing a plethora of role models, norms, ideas; I have skipped artistic, musical etc. education which largely shapes the emotional sphere; I have omitted the huge role of peers in the process of upbringing, I have missed the cooperation of teachers with parents of children and young people, ‘pedagogisation of parents’, etc.
Despite this, it is clear that school, whether it wants or not, is still taking an active part in upbringing!
The awareness of this process may improve the quality of educational influences, as “turning a blind eye” and the lack of such awareness always gives very bad results when it comes to educational influences of teachers (Włodarski & Hankała, 2004). (I was using the terms: children, young people instead of: pupil, student deliberately, to emphasise the problem of subjectivity-objectivity in the educational processes at school).
How can we deal with all this?
Knowledge of languages, especially English is a ‘window onto the world’!
Our students listen to music, songs in English - there is a need to understand the text, the need for correct pronunciation and accent. Tourism is developing - more and more often families travel abroad, where children act as interpreters; schools run student exchange programmes, trips, language camps, etc. The motivation to learn arises!
Here is the basic law of motivation
M = N x R x PoS
Motivation (M) is the product of need (N), reinforcement (R – reward, satisfaction, praise, achieving good grade, etc.) and probability of success (PoS - assessment of one's chances as higher than zero; the more I believe that it will succeed, the greater the motivation) (Reykowski, 1970).
From this formula it follows that the need to learn should be formed. All needs, apart from biological ones (these are innate), are learned by association in times of curiosity, novelty, pleasure, emotions, etc. with action and reward. Here are some examples:
- Kindergarten (or primary school grade 1) - the teacher comes in, claps his or her hands to silence the group, gestures to show the children to sit down; he or she has a Paddington bear puppet in one hand and greets the children in English, and Paddington acts as an interpreter, addressing them in Polish! It is worth knowing that younger children remember whole phrases faster than individual words. The teacher (with an appropriate gesture) speaks English and Paddington explains the phrase in Polish. The situation should be repeated several times (children answer as a group and then one by one). The teacher corrects mistakes, evaluates, praises and annotates good work with a plus (+) mark (Paddington translates everything!). Reinforcement- the reward is praise, our smile, the inscribed plus (+); the child has succeeded and ... starts wanting to learn English!
- During another lesson the teacher can draw the Paddington bear (the teacher gives commands in English, the bear translates). The teacher says: we draw a circle for a head, a fairly large, oblong oval for the torso; smaller ovals are the fore and hind feet; then gives details of the face - the bear is ready and the children know the elements of the human figure and the colours of the character in English.
- Repeating words (we teach several nouns and verbs) - either we show pictures and children speak English or we speak, and children look for the right picture.
Of course, this is a simplified description of learning situations, but these first interesting and unusual lessons arise curiosity in children, and this is the first step in the process of shaping the need for language learning. If we engage all senses and movement in the learning process of younger children and arouse pleasant emotions, this is a milestone in shaping the need for learning.
It's good to know that young children often learn for us - teachers! (In the counselling centre I hear many times: "My teacher was so happy that I learned it so well! I like my teacher, and he/she likes me too!"). The teacher's persona is usually so important that the above-mentioned problems related to personality shaping cease being as difficult.
What about older children and young people? From primary IV until graduation, it is worth using computers - students can, for example, collect interesting facts from regions of Great Britain and present it in English; they can prepare presentations from history, geography, speak about interesting facts or news. Activities of this type, carried out individually or in small groups, promote development of interests, ‘polish’ the language, develop conversational skills, etc. Grades achieved for the preparation and presentation of the material can be used at least in two ways. They can be utilised as additional work aimed at the desire to improve the grade, or additional work done by students with learning difficulties – for example with auditory or visual dyslexia. Encouraging such work helps weaker students increase their self-esteem, allows them to present themselves to the class from a different angle, and thus increases their acceptance by the class.
Nowadays almost all students have mobile phones with a recording function. From time to time we can allow students to record parts of a lesson in order to listen to them at home, practice accent, proper pronunciation, etc. It is good to show students the various possibilities of using ‘technical innovations’, demonstrate that you can learn a language better, easier and faster. In schools where there are language studios, this type of lessons is something normal, where there is no studio – mobile phones can at least substitute some of their benefits.
In addition to arousing interest in learning a language, it is extremely important to focus students on what will be covered during a given lesson, what they should pay attention to when reviewing at home and while doing their homework. It is essential to review and practice newly learned vocabulary, phrases, grammar, etc. at home. As a digression, let me give a negative example of working with small children. Quite often the little ones are not asked to learn to read the texts in the elementary textbooks and books. Without practice, children have great difficulty in reading and understanding questions, instructions and tasks written in their textbooks and do not like to read books - they stumble even in primary 5 and 6! In primary 2, children are not asked to memorise the multiplication table in order to understand division! It is therefore worthwhile to dedicate 3-5 minutes of each English lesson to repeating words and phrases or elements of grammar; praise the students for their work at home, announce that students will be spot-checked during the next lesson, etc.
Drama is conducive to interest in the language. Preparing and presenting fragments of Shakespeare's plays, poetry etc. at various school celebrations; preparing class recitals of famous English hits in order to meet the interests of students, and thus the need to learn English. It is then worth thinking that together with the students we function in the modern world.
As a reminder (Matczak, 2003):
- Pupils have different abilities and talents - we should try to individualise the requirements.
- Younger children are mainly driven by emotions - they are interested in the material delivered with an emotional load and they absorb it quickly; it is necessary to break up the lessons with various activities.
- Children up to primary 4 still have rather involuntary attention, mechanical memory and work effectively for about 20 minutes, then become tired; we must vary the nature of the lesson; they write slowly and not very neatly; texts to write should be short. Their thinking is not yet conceptual.
- Students from primary 4 to primary 7 already have attention and memory of voluntary nature, learn quickly, automate their writing, but longer texts are still difficult for them; they focus attention for 30-40 minutes; they begin to memorise things on a logical basis and absorb material quickly and in large batches; primary 6 to secondary 1 are the development of logical and conceptual thinking (beginnings!); boys are interested in sport, DIY; girls - fashion, books, appearance, etc.; students are happy to listen to music and sing.
- Around the end of primary and beginning of secondary school students enter adolescence; girls earlier, boys about 1.5-2 years later; which leads to change of interests, big emotional changes (the blues!); periodically feeling tired, often growth pains, decreased mental resistance, tendency to neurosis, seeing the world in black and white tones. Increased criticism of adults (including teachers); interest in gender issues, girlfriend-boy relationships. Peer friendships and a sense of loyalty. Development of conceptual thinking, striving for independence.
- High school and technical students: intensive cognitive development with slower emotional and social development; deepening of interests, including linguistic ones; interest in social and political issues (extreme attitudes) or life issues. The Polish-British youth exchange is recommended at this age. Friendly teacher - authority is of a great importance at this age.
There is no recipe for a correct pupil-teacher relationship
If we like children and young people, if we enjoy working with them, enjoy teaching the language, if we know and take into account their capabilities and properties, we know the rules related to learning, reinforcing and motivating; and if there is something of a child in each of us, then our mutual relations in a changing world will be good.
Aronson, A. (2008). Człowiek jako istota społeczna. Warszawa, PWN
Kozielecki, J. (1995). Koncepcje psychologiczne człowieka. Warszawa. Wyd. ŻAK
Matczak, A. (2003). Zarys psychologii rozwoju. Warszawa, Wyd. ŻAK
Reykowski, J. (1997). Z zagadnień psychologii motywacji. Warszawa, WSiP.
Skrzyński, W. & Janiszewska B. (2004). Nagradzanie i karanie w wychowaniu. In: Stypułkowska J. (ed). Problemy rozwoju i wychowania. Warszawa, Wyd. Medium
Stanisławiak, E. (ed). Szkice z psychologii społecznej. Warszawa, Wyd. WSP TWP
Włodarski, Z. & Hankała A. (2004). Nauczanie i wychowanie jako stymulacja rozwoju człowieka. Warszawa-Kraków, Wyd. Impuls
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