TITLE: The Relationship at the Center of the Classroom
AUTHOR: Eugene Wallingford
DATE: March 25, 2012 11:18 AM
Sometimes, people think that the most important relationship
in a classroom is the one between the student and the teacher.
But it's not. The most important relationship in a classroom
is the one between the student and the ideas that
make up the course.
The teacher's job isn't to tell the student what to think.
It is more the role of a matchmaker: to introduce the student
to the ideas and to stir up interest. To stoke the fire and
keep it burning when interest wanes. And to throw a log on
the fire occasionally so that the young love can grow bigger
The center of it all is the relationship between the student
and the ideas, the discipline. The teacher's most important
lasting effect is in the strength of that relationship.
Students who don't understand this never seem to realize
that it is their work and their interest that make learning
possible. Ultimately, students make a course successful, or
Teachers who don't understand this, or who forget over the
course of a career, are easily disillusioned. Sometimes they
think their most important job is to relay more knowledge to
their students. It's usually more important to provoke the
students to engage a few powerful ideas and let them seek out
what they need when they need it.
Other times, teachers come almost to depend on their
relationship with the students. They feel empty when the
connection seems lacking. In most such cases, the best way
to solve that problem isn't to work on the teacher-student
connection, but to work on the connection between students
and ideas. Ironically, the best way to improve that
connection is often for teachers to reinvigorate their
interest and passion in the ideas they think about and
Occasionally something more happens. Teachers and students
become fellow travelers on a journey, and that fellowship
can outlast a single course or a four-year program of study.
Sometimes, lifelong friendships develop. But that
relationship is distinct from what happens between student,
teacher, and ideas.