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Teacher-Learner Relationships: The Missing Link
Teaching is a universal pursuit-everybody does it. Parents teach their children, employers teach their employees, coaches teach their players, wives teach their husbands (and vice versa), and, of course, professional teachers teach their students. This is a book about how teaching can become remarkably more effective than it usually is-about how it can bring more knowledge and maturity to learners while simultaneously cutting down on conflicts and creating more teaching time for teachers.
Although Teacher Effectiveness Training (T.E.T.) is a complete program for professionals, the methods and skills we offer here will increase the effectiveness of anyone who instructs.
Adults spend an amazing amount of time teaching young people. Some of that time is richly rewarding because helping children of any age learn new skills or acquire new insights is a joyous experience. It makes one feel good-as a parent, a teacher, or youth leader-to contribute to the growth of a child, to realize one has given something of oneself to enrich the life of another human being. It is exhilarating to watch a young person take from a teaching relationship something new that will expand his understanding of the world or add to his repertoire of skills.
But as everybody knows, teaching young people can also be terribly frustrating and fraught with disappointment. All too often, parents, teachers, and youth workers discover to their dismay that their enthusiastic desire to teach something worthwhile to young people somehow fails to engender an enthusiastic desire in their students to learn. Instead, those who endeavor to teach encounter stubborn resistance, low motivation, short attention spans, inexplicable disinterest, and often open hostility.
When young people, seemingly without reason, refuse to learn what adults are so unselfishly and altruistically willing to teach them, teaching is anything but exhilarating. In fact, it can be a miserable experience leading to feelings of inadequacy, hopelessness, sheer exasperation-and, too frequently, deep resentment toward the unwilling and ungrateful learner.
What makes the difference between teaching that works and teaching that fails, teaching that brings rewards and teaching that causes pain? Certainly, many different factors influence the outcome of one's efforts to teach another. But it is the thesis of this book that one factor contributes the most-namely, the degree of effectiveness of the teacher in establishing a particular kind of relationship with students.
It is the quality of the teacher-learner relationship that is crucial-more crucial, in fact, than what the teacher is teaching, how the teacher does it, or whom the teacher is trying to teach. How to achieve this effective quality is what this book is all about.
What's Crucial About the Teacher-Student Relationship
It is essential to zero in on the fact that teaching and learning are really two different functions-two separate and distinct processes. Not the least of the many differences between teaching and learning is that the process of teaching is carried out by one person while the process of learning goes on inside another. Obvious? Of course. But worth thinking about. Because if teaching-learning processes are to work effectively, a unique kind of relationship must exist between these two separate parties-some kind of a connection, link, or bridge between the teacher and the learner.
Much of this book therefore deals with the communication skills required by teachers to become effective in making those connections, creating those links, and building those bridges. These essential communication skills actually are not very complex—certainly not hard for any teacher to understand—although they require practice like any other skill, such as golf, skiing, singing, or playing a musical instrument. Nor do these critical communication skills place unusual demands on teachers to absorb vast amounts of knowledge about the "philosophy of education," "instructional methodologies," or "principles of child development."
On the contrary, the skills we shall describe and illustrate primarily involve talking-something most of us do very easily. Since talk can be destructive to human relationships as well as enhancing, talk can separate the teacher from students or move them closer together. Again, obvious. But again, worth further thought. For the effect that talk produces depends on the quality of the talk and on the teacher's selection of the most appropriate kind of talk for different kinds of situations.
Our instruction for teacher effectiveness, then, builds on top of elementary operations that teachers already perform every day. It is an additional set of skills, an extra sensitivity, an extra accomplishment.
Take praise as an example. Every teacher knows how to praise children. The teacher effectiveness training we offer builds from that point on. We will demonstrate how one kind of praising message will most likely cause students to feel terribly misunderstood and slyly manipulated, while a slightly different message has a high probability of making students see you as a person who is human and genuine, as well as a person who really cares.
Research-literally volumes of it-has shown how critical listening is in facilitating learning. Here again, every teacher, with a few unfortunate exceptions, is biologically equipped to listen and is well practiced in the act of listening to what kids communicate. Teachers do it every day. Yet what they think they hear is not necessarily what the learner is trying to communicate. Our kind of teacher effectiveness training will teach you a simple method by which you can check on the accuracy of your listening to make sure that what you hear is what the student really means. At the same time, it will prove to the student that you have not only heard him but have understood.
Parenthetically, we will also point out when it is very inappropriate to listen to kids. At certain times, when you are teaching them something in the classroom or at home and you find their behavior disruptive or unacceptable, the advice "Be a good listener" should be ignored. We will show you why at such times you must send your own strong message instead, confronting the children with how they are interfering with your rights-and we will demonstrate how you can send such a message with little risk of their feeling squelched, put down, or even defensive.
It seems necessary now to make an important disclaimer: This book is not about what teachers or parents should be teaching children and youth. That issue must be left to others far more experienced in designing curricula, formulating educational objectives, and making value judgments about what is important for young people to learn-at home and in school. In fact, opinions on such matters will vary from home to home, from school to school, and from one type of community to another.
Our training rests basically on the assumption that the quality of the teacher-learner relationship is crucial if teachers are to be effective in teaching anything-any kind of subject matter, any "content," any skills, any values or beliefs. History, math, English composition, literature, or chemistry-all can be made interesting and exciting to young people by a teacher who has learned how to create a relationship with students in which the needs of the teacher are respected by the students and the needs of the students are respected by the teacher.
Face it: even basketball, art, gymnastics, or sex education can be taught so that students are bored, turned off, and stubbornly resistant to learning-if the teacher fosters relationships that make students feel put down, distrusted, misunderstood, pushed around, humiliated, or critically evaluated.
In most schools a very high percentage of time that could be teaching-learning time is taken up with student problems that teachers are rarely trained to help solve, or teacher problems created by reactive or rebellious students whom teachers cannot control. The skills and methods for teacher effectiveness we offer in this book will give teachers more time to teach, whatever the subject matter. They will also open up more time in which real learning occurs. In each chapter we will introduce a new set of skills; each will have the effect of enlarging what we call "teaching-learning time"-periods when teachers are permitted by their students to teach and students are motivated by their teacher to learn.
Tested Skills, Not Vague Abstractions
The skills and methods offered in this book have been taught to hundreds of thousands of teachers throughout the United States and in many countries around the world in a training program known as Teacher Effectiveness Training, or simply T.E.T.
First designed in 1966, T.E.T. has been widely accepted for in-service training of teachers in public and private schools-teachers who teach in preschools, elementary schools, middle schools, and high schools. The T.E.T. course evolved quite naturally from the first effectiveness training course, called Dr. Thomas Gordon's Parent Effectiveness Training, which came to be called P.E.T. and has been taught throughout the United States and in forty-three foreign countries. Teachers and administrators began to hear from parents about what they had learned in P.E.T. and asked that the course be given to their districts' teachers, so they could apply the same communication skills and conflict-resolution methods to students in the classroom. Within a year a special course was designed for schoolteachers, tailored to fit the special and unique human relations problems teachers face in classes with thirty to forty captive students all at once.
This book includes the same principles, skills, and methods that we developed, refined, and tested in our in-service work with teachers in the T.E.T. course. Many of the illustrations and case histories throughout the book have been drawn from these teachers.
Based on this experience, the teacher effectiveness we describe step by step in this book is naturally oriented toward developing very specific skills-that is, we will focus on practical things that teachers can say and do every day in the classroom, not on abstract educational concepts.
Experience with teachers in the T.E.T. classes has made us somewhat critical of the formal education of most teachers; it seems to familiarize them with terms, ideas, and concepts without providing them with practical ways to put these abstractions to work in the classroom. We are talking about such concepts as "respect for the needs of students," "affective education," "classroom climate," "freedom to learn," "humanistic education," "the teacher as a resource person," "two-way communication," and the like.
In T.E.T. such ideas and concepts are given what scientists call "operational definitions"-they are defined in terms of specific operations, things teachers can actually do, specific messages they can communicate.
Take, for example, a concept most teachers have heard over and over again in their training-"respect for the needs of the student." What's lacking is specific operations teachers can perform that would show respect for the needs of students. It becomes eminently clear, however, how they can make that concept real when they learn in T.E.T. about Method III, the no-lose method of resolving conflicts between teachers and students. Method III is a six-step process: teacher and students problem-solve until they come up with a solution that permits the teacher's needs to be met (respected) and the students' needs to be met (respected), too.
Method III offers teachers a specific tool they can use every day to ensure that their students' needs are respected without teachers paying the price of having their own needs frustrated. In T.E.T., respect for students' needs becomes something more than an abstraction for teachers-they learn how to actually bring it about.
The same is true with the concept of "democracy in the classroom." T.E.T. shows teachers the skills and procedures required to create a living democracy through the classroom rule-setting meeting, in which all members of the class, including the teacher, participate in determining the rules everyone will be expected to follow. T.E.T. also offers teachers workable alternatives to the traditional use of power and authority (which is, of course, the direct antithesis of democratic relationships).
Many teachers have described the T.E.T. course as an experience in learning how to bring about what previously had been only idealistic abstractions that they had been taught to value highly.