Tis the season for leadership and educelebs to talk about how important it is to develop relationships with your students. For the record, I completely agree. Also for the record, this time of year these proclamations usually make me very uncomfortable.
It took me a long time to understand what “relationship” means both in my personal and professional life. I was fortunate to find a partner that was patient and helped me to understand the ways my cultural upbringing supported an unbalanced power relationship between married couples. I’ve mentioned before that in my upbringing I rarely saw men in my world do the dishes, cook a meal, or go grocery shopping. I still get the impression that some members of my old world think it’s weird that I am a wiz at changing a poopy diaper. The power dynamic is more balanced in my marriage than those I saw growing up.
While sitting through PD sessions and scrolling through EduTwitter and hearing folks talk about “building reationships” leaves me with that same uncomfortable twinge in my stomach. The problem comes down to the implied reason for building the relationship. Sure, kids might learn more when they have a positive relationship with the teacher but that feels like a really gross reason. I, the teacher, should build a relationship so they, the student, will get better scores or won’t be a discipline problem? It fees transactional and contradictory t relationship building.
A good relationship is a mutual effort towards a mutual goal. By implying that this work should be done to get better scores or get students to do work not cause problems it is a manipulation. We should get to know our students simply because they are community members and people that are deserving of human dignity and agency. To suggest that the teacher use relationships to get students to perform better is manipulative and even abusive. I’m getting something I want through deception. Will a good relationship lead to better academic results? Maybe. But it doesn’t have to in order to justify the use of the time.
Remember to check up on admins and educelebs as they push the idea of relationship building early in the year. If they stop thinking about it after the first week or two that’s a problem. If the focus quickly snaps back to MAP, EOC, ACT, and disciplinary actions there might be a problem. For what its worth, the SC Teacher Standards do include a relationship section.