Erica Moore TE 801 12/10/04

Classroom community and relationships in the classroom
Research question: As a pre-service teacher I have learned and observed a great number of aspects throughout my classes in the teaching program at Michigan State University, as well as my placements at East Lansing High School and Novi High School. During my

education as a teacher, and even earlier as a student, I have always been aware of and interested in teacher student relationships and the community that is developed in a classroom. Observing and working with my placement teacher Lauren has given me the opportunity to witness first hand how relationships with students are developed, the mutual results for both teacher and student, and the benefits of fully encompassing a classroom community. I would like to further explore teacher student interaction in the classroom through my Closer Look Paper by asking: how are relationships developed in the classroom and function to produce a good classroom community? Importance to those in the field: “Every classroom, like every community, has its own distinct culture, values, and rules. Children belong to many different communities. By building a community in the classroom, teachers create a common and predictable cultural experience that helps children feel connected to others” (Building a Classroom Community, 45). As future teachers, and teachers of English, a good classroom community is imperative to the teaching of English. English is the study of texts, which includes a multitude of genres, as well as reflection on the topics we read and the exploration of one’s own ideas through

writing. Many of the topics covered in an English curriculum are sensitive and need to be approached by the teacher with understanding. We ask our students to think critically, evaluate, reflect, share, and create meaning, yet students must feel comfortable in the environment they are being asked to learn and express themselves. “The opportunity to participate as a contributing member of a community is essential for children’s well-being and academic success. A classroom community enables teachers to address children’s basic needs, promote their resilience to hardship conditions, teach the values of respect and responsibility, and foster their social and academic competence” (Building a Classroom Community, 46). A good teacher holds themself responsible for fostering a classroom community in which students can grow. Students who have good relationships with their teachers and feel comfortable in the classroom are generally more productive in the classroom and take away more than the textbook information. “The important lesson that we learn together, the lesson that allows us to move together within and beyond the classroom, is one of mutual engagement,” said Bell Hooks (Smagorinsky, 41). I think it is fair to say that most teachers would prefer actively engaged students rather than desk potatoes who stare at the clock waiting for class to be finished. Good teachers engage students not only through the material they teach but the relationships that are developed in the classroom. Data Sources and Collection: To collect data for my Closer Look Paper I employed several means that incorporated both teacher and student reflections, as well as my personal reflections. My placement began in September and I am in the classroom every day, except for on the Friday’s during MSU classes. I am the lead teacher for the Journalism I class, while I

assist in Journalism News and Seminar. Notes were taken during class and more detailed reflections and observations drawn after each classroom session. Reflections were taken after in order to avoid disrupting the classroom setting, and also to allow for the greatest interaction with students during class. Interviews with the teacher also comprised another portion of my data, as well as daily discussions on the class, students, and her interaction as a teacher. Lauren and I have planning second block every day, which allows us time to hold regular conversations. Although these conversations were not taped, notes were taken on the topics discussed after each day’s session. I used the time during the classes I assisted to focus on how Lauren develops relationships with her students and how that plays into the community in her classroom. Students in my fourth block J1 class participated in a survey for my Closer Look Paper. I explained that the survey was anonymous and would be used to help me with a very significant college project. I emphasized anonymity and how important it was for the students to answer the questions honestly and truthfully, as their answers would become a part of research and many future teachers would take into consideration what they had to say. The survey focuses on what students think makes a good teacher, how they feel when a teacher cares for them, examples myself showing interest, and what a teacher could do to make students feel comfortable in the classroom. Interviews and Observations: Through my observations, conversations, and interviews with Lauren, I have discovered that she takes a vested interest in her students and their lives outside her classroom. This is evident as you hear her greeting students entering the classroom each

day and asking personalized questions. She knows what students participate in after school, who has difficult teachers, and what their home lives are like. As a result of her close relationship with her students, Lauren has gained trust and respect from even the students who usually resist authority. “You need to treat the students as people and show them respect and care,” Lauren said during an interview. “Students are people too.” Respect is evident as she gives the students time to settle in and greet one another at the beginning of class, and commands their attention the next minute by simply walking to the front of the room and starting to give the day’s directions. The relationships that Lauren has developed with her students play a large part in the community that encompasses the classroom. Although Lauren and I have distinctly different personalities in the way that we approach teaching and our own individual learning, I appreciate and admire the classroom community she has developed. I always desired to establish an open, inviting learning and communicative classroom. By observing Lauren, I have been encouraged to develop relationships with my students and truly work on the community in my classroom. I would like to share a few situations which illustrate an effective classroom community and positive relationships within the J1 classroom. Upon entering into my classroom, the relationships that students have developed among one another and also with myself are evident. Typically, our class discussions are lively with few lulls in conversation, the students work well with one another in a small group setting, and frequently students talk to me about concerns or successes they have in the classroom and outside in their personal lives. This open dialogue emerged from the classroom community that was established in the class from the first day of school. I

made sure to tell students that I would be open to their ideas, offer a listening ear, and even though critique would be a vital part of the class it never meant I did not like them – or their writing altogether. Although many students seek me out to ask questions about their work in the class or to share a personal success, more often I inquire about how they are feeling or doing. Scenario 1: Most recently I noticed one of my students appear run down, tired and rather quiet for her nature. When I asked her how she was doing the student expressed concern over her best friend being in the hospital for an illness, and problems this friend encountered at home with her parents. I listened to her for the most part, but asked questions when appropriate. I had not heard anything else from this student about the situation until a week later. And then it got bad. Just the other day I saw the same student moping around quietly, staying on task and facilitating her group, but nonetheless, she was out of sorts. When we had an editorin-chief meeting with all the newspaper group editors I asked the student how she was doing, to which she simply shook her head and looked down. “Not good Ms. Moore,” she said. She began to express how her best friend was in trouble and that she had lied to her and gotten in trouble with her own parents. Big trouble. Unfortunately, the

remaining editors came over for the meeting and we had to cut our conversation short. I looked at the student and told her we would talk after the meeting. We picked up where we left off after the meeting. She talked in more detail about how her friend was hanging out with their 31-year-old manager (eek!) and lying to her parents and friends about where she was spending her time. This student had gone out of her way to arrange a safe

place for her friend to stay at her house and felt extremely betrayed knowing she had been lied to. Moreover, she was very upset that her friend was putting herself in a very comprising and potentially unsafe position. Despite the fact that I was outraged about the situation, and ready to storm down to the students’ work myself and ask this manager who the heck he thought he was hanging out with a 17-year-old high school student, I kept my cool. I listened attentively, nodded, commented minimally and only when necessary and then laid it out for her- she was a concerned friend and was handling the situation appropriately in the things she had told the girl. I expressed my concern that there might be a larger issue in her spending time with this manager outside of work, to which my student also agreed. My placement teacher and I talked about the situation afterwards and she and I agreed that we had to inform the proper authorities in our school, because the student incurring the problems is a student at our school. I proceeded to talk to my student the next day, express to her my concern and that I thought a lot about what she had told me and also conferred with colleagues I trust. I also gently told her that we needed to let people who care about her friend know what is going on and I assured her I would accompany her to the counselors office. Meetings were set for the following day, unfortunately due to my required

attendance at my MSU classes I will not be able to be there for my student. It upsets me deeply that I will not be there during the meetings, especially after all this student has endured and the courage it took her to talk to me in the first place. I do know that I have done my job as a teacher by informing the right people, and moreover I feel good inside knowing that I was a good listener and able to help my student with a potentially dangerous situation.

Scenario 2: A senior male student from Journalism News experiences trouble, to put it mildly, and causes trouble in three out of four of his classes. Luckily, Journalism News is the one class he which does not fit into that troublesome category. Donny is an intelligent young man who can be really great at what he does, when he wants to. Somehow, Lauren has tapped into Donny’s inner self and connected with him on a level which makes him strive to achieve in our class. I wish I could say I knew how she did this, but I have yet to put my finger on exactly what it is. This is Donny’s second year with Lauren and he seems to continue evolving into an effective student in our class. I take part of the credit with Donny’s change in behavior this year because I have worked with him several times one-on-one. Donny typically sits on the computers by my desk and frequently asks me for help with his stories, although that is the smallest connection. Donny has been typecast as a no-good, bad kid who is always causing big trouble. Because this is not the way my placement teacher treats Donny, neither did I. I hold Donny to higher standards and continually encourage him through compliments concerning his writing, or by simply talking about our days. Every day without fail Donny says good morning and asks me how I’m doing, and I do the same – and then I listen. Simply stated, I care and he knows it. I do not let Donny get away with goofing around and acting like the class clown whose future may be bleak; we talk about the positive aspects in his life and frequently about college, coincidently he is attending MSU in the fall. On average, Donny comes into fourth block J1 at least three times per week because he needs space from his other teachers, who do not understand the way he

functions and thus lash at him for acting up. Donny soaks up attention like a sponge soaks up water- he can never get enough. There are times when I supply that need, like when he is positive or effective, and there are other times when I remind him that his behavior is inappropriate for school and I do not want to hear him talk to his friends in class about the things he did over the weekend. All I have to do is look at Donny with “the look” when he acts out and he drops his head down and refocuses his energy in a more positive manner. Donny is a great student, but without the classroom community present in our classroom I have no doubt that he would act out just like he does in his other classes. These above example illustrate how Lauren and I have gone out of the way to make a student feel comfortable in our classroom. Keeping informed and aware of the students’ lives helps Lauren and I stay in tune with the students. This is important because a lot of times students are dealing with a great many things during school hours that have nothing to do with being in the classroom. “If your students know that they can come to you in times of need, that is so much more important than answering what a verb is,” Lauren said. Survey Results The survey conducted includes fourth block students, as stated previously. I utilized the students’ opinions because I feel that a teacher must be in tune with their students’ needs and ideas in order to develop relationships and a functioning classroom community. Students recognized the following as qualities of a good teacher, which are important for developing relationships and classroom community:
Nice Understanding Patient Caring Fun, funny

Respectful Positive attitude Makes learning fun

Helpful Listens well to students Treats all students equally

Motivational Someone you can learn from Stays on task

Realistic Doesn’t give out busy work Inspirational

Fair Knowledgeable subject matter patience


When asked “How does it make you feel when you know that a teacher genuinely cares about you, not just how you do in school or their class? Why?” the most common and highlighted student answers were: Good because… · it shows you they really care (10th grade, Male)
· · · · · · it shows they’re not phony (10, F) you feel more trusting and closer to the teacher (12, F) I know someone cares about my future (10, M) it shows the teacher is concerned (10, M) you feel welcome and more comfortable in the classroom (10, F) it is good to know that they are not just trying to pound info into your brain, but they are trying to do that and establish a relationship (12, M) I know that you can always go to them for help (10, F) it gives me a sense of security (10, M,) It makes me feel REALLY good. I feel better about myself as a person. (10, F) It is the best feeling in the world. It makes me feel happy and special and like I matter (10, F) makes me feel loved because it is a good feeling (11, M)


· · ·
· ·

Happy because…
you know someone cares about you (10, M) I then know that if anything bad or good happened to me outside of school there’s gonna be another grown up other than parents that really care about me (10, F)

Students also know who is a full-time teacher or a 7:15-1:55 teacher as they answer:
· · I like it. It makes me feel important, more than a name. (10, M) It makes me feel special because then I know that they love their job! (10, M)

· I know they care about me as a person not just a student. (9, F) · It makes me feel as if they aren’t just there to teach (10, M) · I know that they’re here for the kids, not the job (11, M) Answers also illustrated that students want to please a teacher who shows interest in them. · it motivates me to do well in class (10th grade, Male)
· · capable to get a better grade and wanting to because the teacher deserves my best work (10, M) you actually care about their class and have fun in it (10, M) I will want to work harder and I will are about my work in turn. To see a dedicated teacher will want you to work hard for him/her (10, M) It feels good because it’s always nice to have someone care about you. A deeper relationship with your teachers allows more mutual respect and a better learning atmosphere (11, M) It makes me feel good because I know that the class will be better. (10, F) I like it because I feel like they really care and it makes me want to come to their class and I feel I want to learn more (10, F)

· ·


· It makes you want to work harder to show them your hard work and abilities (9, F) · It makes me feel good and it makes me like the teacher more and I give them more respect
(10, M)

The answers displayed were not the only ones given from the survey, but by far the most common. From this survey we learn from students that teachers who develop relationships with their students have students who are more active in the classroom, demonstrate good or better behavior skills, and want to help their teacher because the teacher helps them. Students also suggested that teachers be involved, but not overly involved. There is a fine line regarding involvement because students are very protective of their space and “business.” In part, teachers simply need to be approachable because students want to know they can come to you if they need or want to. Why should we look at this? As teachers we will be faced with educating our students in a setting which promotes learning, critical thinking, structure and respect. Like us, our students have lives outside of the classroom and in order to engage students in growth we must first realize who they are as individuals. Everyone wants to know that they are cared about, especially high school students who have to deal with balancing hormones, family lives, boyfriends/girlfriends, friends, extracurricular activities, and school. As a teacher you can connect with students through classroom relations and by developing a good classroom community which will provide a stable environment for your students and leave the door open for discussion. What does this mean? Judith A. Dorney said, “Although I did not begin my teaching career with this awareness, I have come to see teaching as an activity dedicated to development. Aside from a depth of subject-matter knowledge, teaching requires imaginative capacity,

collaborative effort to construct meanings and knowledge, and the abilities to nurture the psyches of students and generally to contribute to the cultivation of a member of society who is just, active, creative, and responsive” (Smagorinsky, 340). A teacher should strive for all their students to understand the material taught in their class, but in all honesty, unless the student pursues a career in that field the chances of them remembering all that info is slim. The teacher student relationship means so much more than passing on textbook information; it means giving your students someone to turn to. Students

appreciate knowing that someone cares for them and their future, and is available to listen or ask questions to should they need help. This does not mean that all students who a teacher develops a relationship with will seek out to discuss utmost secrets or traumas, but rather students feel comfortable in the classroom and can open up when discussing sensitive issues, which are present in many English texts. Teachers who develop

relationships and a sound classroom community have students who are more apt to enjoy their class and participate. What should we do? In order to develop relationships with students a teacher must create an open classroom community from the first day. Teachers who share a little bit about who they are with their students can open the doors for communication. This can be accomplished by modeling writing activities with the students, participating when students are asked to bring in artifacts that relate to them, and facilitating and engaging in classroom discussion. A simple way of showing students you care is by asking them how they are doing, noticing a new haircut, or commenting on an extra-curricular activity they participate in. An active teacher is a caring teacher, and in that process the teacher

develops relationships with her or his students. Initially establishing a good classroom community sets the path for class relations, yet once relationships are in place the classroom community grows even further. Make students feel comfortable: From the survey we discover what students feel are qualities in a good teacher. They also noted that such qualities go a long way in helping students feel comfortable in the classroom community. When asked what they would do to help students feel

comfortable in their classroom students consistently noted: patience, understanding and care. Although this may sound obvious, students have assured me that not every teacher acts in such manners. Many comments were also made about the aesthetic qualities of the room. Although a teacher is largely held responsible for knowing their content and teaching, the setting in a classroom is also very important for a one to think about. Students

commented on putting posters and pictures on the wall, displaying a digital clock (useful during testing), comfortable chairs- or at the very least a comfortable area in the room the students can use during reading time, group work, or in class work time. Typically students would love if we as teachers never assigned homework, gave them all “free days,” watched movies and played games every day, all of which were given as suggestions to make students comfortable in the classroom and on some level may assist in developing relationships with students. These less educating suggestions are humorous coming from the students, though we as teachers know they would not produce profound thought, engage students in learning, or really even result in long lasting positive teacher student relationships. Although students are likely to include

such answers when asked what we as teachers can do to create classroom community and a level of comfortableness in the classroom, I do think it is important for us to take elicit such ideas from our students and take them into consideration. Conclusion: Teacher student relationships in the classroom are profound and have much more to lend to learning that reading out of a textbook or nailing the hit story. In observing Lauren and her publications classes, I have learned that developing relationships is as easy as carrying on a conversation and learning about one another. Relationships and classroom community feed each other and form a circular pattern; if you have one than the other will continue to grow. Classroom community can not exist if the students are uncomfortable with the teacher or relationships have not developed between the teacher and their students. As a future teacher I look forward to developing community in my classroom and developing relationships with the students. As a pre-service teacher I know that I will have to continue finding my own methods for developing relationships with students. I question if I will have to battle the line between being a friend and a teacher, although so far I think I am able to incorporate the two and find a balance. I do wonder how other teachers develop relationships with their students, although I am sure this is something I will continue to observe throughout my career. I hope to continue to develop my

relationships with my students and strive to place classroom community as a priority on my list of objectives. One thing I will definitely take away from my experience at my placement and have learned for certain is that teachers must look at their students as

people first, and students in the classroom second because that is the first step in developing relationships in the classroom.