Last month, I had the opportunity to listen to Brandon Busteed, Gallup’s Executive Director of Education & Workforce Development. (The entire video can be seen below. Brandon’s speech begins at 49:30.) He spoke extensively about the ways educational institutions are preparing students for life after school. Brandon’s entire presentation was engaging and eye-opening, but one thing stood out that caught my attention and generated numerous questions in my mind.
It began with Brandon’s assertion that the odds of college graduates being engaged in their work and thriving in their well-being doubled if they felt that they were “emotionally supported” throughout their time in college. From there, Brandon dug into the Gallup data a bit deeper and found that while 64% of college graduates experienced as least one professor that made them excited about learning, only 27% of students felt that they had a professor that cared about them as a person and 22% had a mentor that encouraged their goals and dreams. Furthermore, only 14% of college graduated surveyed experienced all three.
Think about that. After four+ years of college, only a quarter of students had a professor they felt liked them. That’s an awfully low standard to overcome!
Of Course Teachers Like Their Students. Don’t They?
Last week I was at a local high school meeting with about 20 students leaders of the school’s JROTC program. A few of my colleagues and I were learning more about the program and the ways they were preparing students to be Life Ready after high school. Towards the end of my time with this impressive group of student leaders, I decided to pursue Brandon’s findings related to the relationship between teacher and student and the impact it has on academic achievement.
I asked the question, “By a show of hands how many of you currently have a teacher that you believe genuinely doesn’t like you?” Every hand went up. I felt I had to clarify. “I don’t mean a teacher that is tough or not even as personable as others. I’m talking about a teacher that you truly believe doesn’t care for you personally.” Again, every hand went up. These were student leaders. Students that achieved highly in class and outside of it. Every single one of them felt there was a course that they went to every day in which the teacher didn’t care for them as a person.
The next obvious question was “So how are you doing in those classes?” The response was a chorus of moans, groans, and horribly warped faces. Now, most of them were performing well academically in these classes, but they admitted to far less engagement, higher stress, and dislike for the content.
I followed these questions by asking about teachers that do like them. Every student agreed that they have at least one teacher that they have a strong connection with, who likes them, and who’s class they thoroughly enjoyed.
This conversation was eye opening. This wasn’t Brandon Busteed presenting data on a PowerPoint slide. It was 20 very high achieving students in one of our high schools – each of which felt they had a teacher that didn’t care for them personally. This was disheartening. I hope that they are wrong. I hope that they are mistaking rigor or even tough-love for dislike. But even so, perception is reality isn’t it?
The Impact on our Most Vulnerable Students
I’m sure that these particular students are going to ultimately find success no matter their path in life. But what about the students that are struggling academically, socially, or emotionally? How would this impact a student that is struggling to learn English, has a difficult home life, or is struggling with stress or depression? A teacher that they feel simply doesn’t like them personally could be devastating. However, a teacher that makes a connection and truly cares for them as a person could have the opposite extraordinary impact.
As Brandon said during his presentation, the bar is set really low. Yet, this simple perception of like vs. dislike could be having a substantial impact on achievement. This isn’t something that can be measured in an assessment. It’s not something that colleges ask during an interview. It’s not even something that will be revealed in a teacher evaluation. But it’s something that we all must commit far greater personal resources towards.