The “teacher-liking” effect

Teachers strive to establish rapport in their classes: certainly between the teacher themselves and their students as a group, but also among students. This dimension of a teacher’s role is axiomatic in ELT as it is in the broader world of education – and rightly so: we want our students to feel secure in our classrooms, we believe they learn best under such conditions (and that the converse would be detrimental to their learning), and it’s nice to teach in an environment where everyone gets along.

There are two things to notice about this notion of rapport. One is that it is student-centred: centred on the disposition of students themselves, towards the teacher and towards their peers. The other is that it is teacher-driven: the teacher is the agent of rapport, like the host at a party, or perhaps a charismatic orator at a political rally (whichever simile works best for you).

What we as teachers may overlook is the impact our own dispositions towards our students possibly have. There’s a phenomenon known as “teacher-liking“, in which the degree to which a teacher is perceived by their students to like or dislike certain individual students, influences how well-disposed their peers are towards those particular students. In the study which looked at this effect, it seems to be most pronounced among students most at-risk of aggressive or anti-social behaviour, and it is in these cases that teacher interventions are most effective. But this “teacher-liking” effect has caused me to reflect upon my own disposition (perceived or actual) towards “problem” students. Have I behaved towards such students in ways suggesting to their peers that I dislike them? Has this affected their status among their peers? Are their peers less willing to work with them or socialise with them? Has this had further ramifications academically or in other ways?

If we’re building community in our classrooms, and if we believe that a community in which everyone gets along well is one in which individual students are most likely to thrive, then maybe this starts with an awareness of our own attitudes towards our students, and in particular how these attitudes manifest.

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