The Importance of Student-Teacher Dynamics

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By Bailey Kane, Staff Writer

Imagine this: you walk into school and pass your favorite teacher, who then asks you about your day before continuing on. You see the librarian and they do the same, as does every staff member you pass. Now imagine the alternative: you walk into a school full of strangers and unfamiliar glances from the teachers that are supposed to teach you for the next 4 years. The first scenario is obviously ideal – it’s difficult to learn in a withdrawn environment. This raises the question, how much of an impact does connecting with your teacher really have?

“A connection makes a student more interested in the work being asked of them in class,” says Mr. Neden, an English teacher at New Paltz High School.

It is common to think building a friendship with a single teacher is pointless because you will only have them for one quarter, or semester, or year. But when asked about the impact a teacher-student friendship has on grades, Mrs. Fredericks, a social studies teacher at NPHS, says that “if a student likes their teacher, they try to please the teacher by doing well. If the motive is there, then the student will try harder and get better grades.”

“(The relationship) is the most important part of teaching; anyone can teach you facts and teach a lesson, but connecting with students and making them feel comfortable to work is what a teacher does.”

Mrs. Fredericks

Mrs. Tozzi added something similar. “You are more likely to ask questions and talk to the teacher, but as far as grading papers, no, you can’t get favored.”

During quarantine, teachers learned even more about how critical a relationship between students and educators can be. Fredericks says that “(The relationship) is the most important part of teaching; anyone can teach you facts and teach a lesson, but connecting with students and making them feel comfortable to work is what a teacher does.”

Regarding online schooling and its effect on learning, Tozzi says that “it was harder to make the kids feel unified. Everyone was feeling isolated and learning is generally a collaborative activity, but everyone was feeling alone and behind a screen.” Many students can agree that it was harder to pay attention and be engaged in conversations in classes. That may have been because their bed was right there, and there would be no immediate repercussions if they went to sleep or were on their phone, but even when trying to stay involved, it was difficult to get and stay focused. 

The lack of motivation towards school work is still present even after the quarantine ended and we returned to the building. This is an issue that affects both teachers and students alike.

“(The shift) is gradual, and it’s still continuing to change… we’re still dealing with some of the effects of two and a half years ago and trying to make up for some of the time lost,” says Mr. Neden.

Veda Keon, a senior, said something similar. “I didn’t do any of the work because I wasn’t feeling super motivated, so my 10th grade slipped and I didn’t learn anything. Mrs. Seim will ask us in Comparative Government about 10th grade stuff and I don’t know the answer.” Everyone is having trouble readjusting to being back in the school and gaining relationships that motivate them to want to learn and care about their classes.

Friendships positively impacting the school experience can be seen all over the student body.

Mr. Neden finds it much easier to forge a relationship with Journalism student Josh Pappace during in-person classes.

“I have classes I can look forward to because my teacher is great and it’s more difficult to get to that point (of discouragement) now,” says Mia Gagne, a freshman.

This isn’t an issue specific to only one grade though; Aloura Sheeley, a sophomore, agrees with Mia’s sentiments, stating that “adjusting to the high school expectations is much harder when it’s been easy for the last two years.”

“Before quarantine I always did homework the night I got it… (but) now I will put it off until the absolute last minute and that was never something I did before (the pandemic),” admits Taylor Kane, a senior.

“I didn’t do any of the work because I wasn’t feeling super motivated, so during my 10th grade year I slipped and I didn’t learn anything.”

Veda Keon

The amount that students were affected by the pandemic varies throughout the classes, though. This year’s seniors had a half of “normal” freshman year and then their sophomore year was almost entirely online. The current Juniors didn’t get a full year but still had 9 months in the building with the staff. By this measure, the current sophomores and freshmen were the most affected by the pandemic with never having an average year in high school. 

“I had freshmen, so they had no idea who I was, and building a bond over a computer was extremely difficult. I had 10th graders, who I had known them for a year so the relationship was already established, which makes it more effective” says Mrs. Fredericks.

Mr. Neden says, “I think the lack of connection with the atmosphere, especially with the 9th graders that I had that year (2020-2021), there was no connection to the larger culture of the high school.”

Teachers still recommend reaching out to build relationships, despite the gap in socialization due to the pandemic. “Email is a safe way to start (talking to teachers) for kids who are unsure or nervous. There are a lot of negative things about being behind a screen but that is one of the positives,” says Mrs. Tozzi. Even if you do reach out for the sake of our grades and it doesn’t go perfectly, it’s not the end of the world, so why not try?