Most people talk about students like they’re empty vessels: passive, open, and receptive. From this perspective, the teacher’s job is simply to pop the lids off their student’s brains and pour the knowledge in. If the student’s aren’t learning, the teacher must be terrible, since nothing’s easier than filling an empty container.
Anyone who’s worked in a classroom knows that this perspective doesn’t hold water. Students are anything but passive. Most days, they bring tons of energy to the classroom; a teacher’s job is to channel that energy towards learning.
This can be extremely difficult because students are often anything but open and receptive. I teach high schoolers, and learning is often the last thing on those kids’ minds. I don’t blame them; they’re hormonal and social and very confused.
My point is, students are hardly passive, empty vessels. Teaching is far more complicated than simply delivering content, and learning is far more complicated than simply receiving it. Viewed through using an ecological lens, the teacher-student relationship is symbiotic. Like the bird and the buffalo pictured above, teachers and students have a mutually beneficial relationship; each supports the other’s existence.
When students play their part– get to class on time, do their work, participate in discussions–the teacher thrives. When teachers play their part, the student has access to all sorts of support– academic, emotional, and social. Neither can thrive on their own, and both are deeply affected by other environmental factors.
For example, when external forces– ranging from malnutrition, poor air quality, or neighborhood violence– interfere with a student’s ability to function, both the teacher and student suffer. And despite the fact that the interfering factors exist outside the teacher-student relationship, teachers are held responsible for their consequences.
Appreciating not only that external factors play a tremendous role in the classroom, but that the teacher-student relationship is symbiotic, might lead us towards a more productive conversation about how to construct healthier school environments. Such a conversation would be less focused on increased measures of accountability than on constructing healthy, supportive environments for both teachers and students.