The Power and Influence of a Teacher

by Carol Chandler-Wood

There is nothing a student wants more than the approval and compliments from his or her school teacher, no matter how old the student. Conversely, there is nothing potentially more harmful and discouraging to students’ confidence and motivation towards academics and/or their self-esteem than the disapproval or disappointment a teacher may demonstrate towards them either!

Do you remember your own school days? Was there ever a teacher who believed in you so much, told you that you could accomplish anything you desired with hard work and encouraged you? Do you remember what that felt like? Or, was there ever a teacher who verbalized to you his or her disappointment in your work, grades, motivation, or academic skills in front of your classmates causing you to feel embarrassed? In either case, there is no doubt that you remember those moments vividly; the room, the kids, how you felt, and most every components of the setting that day! Your teachers’ approval or disapproval of you and your work had a powerful impact on your development, confidence, motivation, and self-esteem!

The role of teacher is multi-faceted. Teachers not only provide information to their students to be transformed into a base of knowledge, but also act as a little bit counselor, mentor, parent, and coach to their students.

As “counselor”, figuratively of course, teachers must understand the emotional development of children in order to be sensitive to their feelings and emotional and cognitive development. This is why teachers are required to complete education psychology courses in their own college curriculum. A child’s perception is his or her own reality! So, if a student “perceives” the teacher is disappointed in his or her academic performance and/or conduct based on the verbal and body language of the teacher, the student views this as “real”. Conversely, if a teacher encourages a student and points out the many things being done correct, the student is encouraged and motivated to continue to do well. As “counselor”, teachers often listen to students concerns, must determine why he or she is not performing and working to potential, and often find themselves analyzing the causes of this lack of performance. They then provide recommendations to the student as to how to alter the prohibiting behaviors and attitudes so improvements can be made in reaching his or her academic potential. Thus, the student is better able to reach the curriculum objectives and goals established. Sometimes the core problem for a student is something emotional that needs to be overcome regarding home dynamics, relationships with friends, or feelings of academic inadequacies. So, the role of “counselor” is a big one for teachers and carries with it great responsibility and impact on students!

As mentor, teachers provide an example to students of how they should conduct themselves. So, if a teacher wants his or her students to show respect for others, be sensitive to the feeling of classmates, and accept responsibility when not working to potential, teachers must demonstrate these same behaviors and attitudes in their own interactions with others. If teachers want their students to conduct themselves in accordance to school policy and procedures, teachers must follow the rules placed on them by their school. When teachers are complimentary, rather than critical, of the school environment, the curriculum, and of those with whom they work, students will likely develop a healthy and positive attitude about the school and the expectations placed on them. Teachers must be careful about how they conduct themselves in the classroom and the attitudes in which they reflect during their interactions with the students they teach, the colleagues with whom they work, and towards the parents of their students because students are watching and modeling their own behaviors and attitudes based on that of their teachers!

As a parent or authority figure, teachers must provide rules, expectations and parameters to students so they have a framework by which to operate. Doing so helps students feel more secure as they understand better the objectives for which they are striving. Additionally, just like parents must be careful not to enable their children and without intention allow them to blame others for their lack of proper student skills, attitudes, and follow through, teachers must raise the bar high and hold students accountable. It is important that while a teacher wants to demonstrate friendly behavior towards his or her students, he or she not become “friends” with these students. A professional line must be drawn which separates a teacher as an authority figure from the students as learners in order for them to gain proper respect for teachers’’ expertise and experience and then students will strive to reach a high level of knowledge themselves.

As coach, teachers act as motivators and encouragers to their students. They monitor and correct students approach towards solving math problems, analyzing cause and effects in science, tacking diagramming sentences, and understanding the impact one historical event had on another. When a student errs in his or her approach to a subject, teachers point out where the student “derailed” and point them in the right direction to enable them to get back on track. When students are tackling a problem correctly and with result, like a coach, the teacher tells the student, “Good job”, and provides compliment and encouragement. Like coaches, teachers have the opportunity to push students to limits and levels they do not know they can attain!

So, teachers, remember what you learned in educational psychology and from the many students you have already taught. You have incredible influence and power over the outcome of your students’ motivation to learn and feelings of confidence regarding, not only their academic abilities, but also their feelings of personal self worth.