Tuesday, June 17, 2014

The Complexity of Teacher and Student Relationships

Thinking of Hopper ( M.A. Reilly, 2013).


Tonight a former student of my husband who he taught in an urban NJ middle school contacted him through LinkedIn. The student is now married, living in southern California, and works in the alternative energy business (solar energy). He contacted Rob to thank him for teaching him and to connect with him again after 12 years.  He wanted to talk writing and asked Rob if he ever got around to writing that 9-11 essay that Rob must have mentioned to his class wanting to write.  They have reconnected.

This student would not have been considered a model student by most standards.  He is the student you could have asked "What are you learning today?"--and there's a very good chance he might not have known. One might have described him as a poor kid, who had been deskilled, and yet was quite bright. Rob says he could be handful and that was most days.  As I listen to him talk, I'm reminded of another boy he taught--this one coming from a very affluent home who also was a handful. This young man is now in medical school and contacted Rob, asking him to meet for coffee and some conversation.  

But it's not these stories that I want to write about tonight.  Rather, I want to say something about the complexity of the relationships between students and teachers and how impossible it is to know the trajectory of a teacher's or student's influence.


Two weeks ago Rob and I had dinner with a former student of mine, Mark, and his wife, Karen. I taught Mark 20 years ago at a NJ high school. I was his tenth grade English teacher.  We've kept in touch during the years. He told me at dinner that what he remembered most was that I took him to visit a graduate course I was taking in writing so that he could see poetry in action at the 92nd Street Y.  I can still recall his class and of course him in the class and what he thought about books we read, acting, and the many works we wrote.  At dinner we had several laughs reminiscing about our class and his classmates. In a few weeks he plans to send me the completed draft of a book he is authoring about teaching. It's a critical look based on teachers he has had and his own experiences teaching.  I'm a bit anxious as he told me there's a chapter in it about my teaching as he recalls it.


When I think about Mark, I realize that it is hard to imagine the trajectory of influence we have had on one another across these last two decades as we moved from teacher and student to friends.  Who knows how that trajectory might be shaped in future years.

There is nothing simple about teacher and student relationships.

I think about the plethora of teacher evaluation rubrics that are so very popular now and wonder how Rob or I might have been scored on such an instrument.  As I browse the 120 pages of the Danielson Rubric, I see there's nothing about love and perhaps that for the better.  

I don't know a teacher who's excellent who doesn't love his or her students, first. Last. That's what teaching is mostly about.


  1. So true. Such a beautiful post. And very challenging for today's teaching/learning world.

    1. Thank you Maureen. Always value your opinions and insights.

  2. Great piece. Now there's a book--your, Rob, Robyn's K-12 students--and other great teachers. Capturing the Trajectory could be the title.


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