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Having a good relationship with the teacher protects students from early school dropout. In addition, it affects students' future mental health, according to a new review of research.

 Image: Dreamstime (with licence)

This is written on the website in a post that provides a very important reminder. I want to draw here some of the points in the article, which by the way is centered around an interview with Ottar Ness, Vibeke Krane and Bengt Karlsson - three researchers from the University College of Southeast Norway.

Summary of research writes:

We have all had a relationship with our teacher in high school - for better or worse. A new review of research in the field indicates that the quality of this relationship is important for students' mental health and the risk of dropping out of school.

There is a special focus on young people in upper secondary school, without this meaning that the relationship is less important at lower levels of school.

The researchers have conducted a literature review of what exists of research in this area, a so-called "review" study. These are very important studies, because they summarize everything that has been done by previous, relevant research. Then it becomes much clearer what we know - than if you just look at a single study. 


The importance of the relationship for better or worse

Their findings are briefly summarized:


  1. When the teacher-student relationship is good, there is a lower risk of the student dropping out of school.
  2. When students report having a positive relationship with the teacher, they also report better self-esteem and fewer depressive symptoms.


What is thought-provoking is that this also goes the opposite way. Vibeke Krane tells about this:

The connection also goes the opposite way. A negative relationship between teacher and student indicates that there is an increased risk of developing mental health problems. The teacher-student relationship can be protective, but also a risk factor, for students' mental health.

In other words: the relationship between teacher and student is important for better or worse. It can at best have a protective effect on mental health problems, and at worst be a contributing factor to some students getting mental problems. 


The vulnerable students have the greatest gain 

But what is a good teacher-student relationship? Vibeke Krane says:

Students express that they have good relations with teachers who help them with subjects and practical arrangements. Most people appreciate that the teacher shows that they care about them as human beings. In order to develop a positive relationship between teacher and student, mutual respect is needed.

It is also pointed out that it is the most vulnerable students who have the greatest benefit from a good relationship with the teacher, or who potentially take the most damage from a bad relationship.


Not just as a "means" to promote learning

There is little doubt that the school is a place where students will learn basic skills such as mathematics, reading, writing, and various subjects. But the school's purpose clause also emphasizes formation as a very fundamental goal of the school.  

Many pedagogical philosophers have pointed out that the school (and thus the teacher) unfortunately tends to become very "instrumentalist", that is, the students are made into objects. It is about "filling up" with knowledge, as if you emptied water into an empty tub. The fuller, the better. And everything must be measured and assessed.

But formation - being equipped as an entire human being - comes second.

But if the students are made into objects - which must constantly be mapped and measured on the basis of academic achievement - then the relationship can quickly lose its significance. A good relationship presupposes that the student is valued as a unique individual. 

Fortunately, there are many teachers who value the individual student in this way, and who really want to contribute to good mental health.

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