Teacher personality plays big role in student learning

The obsession with measuring what students have learned fails to account for the importance of a teacher’s relationship with them (“Students Learn From People They Love,” The New York Times, Jan. 18).  Teachers can know their subject matter, but if they can’t connect with their students on an emotional basis, learning suffers.

Researchers are beginning to understand how students’ brain activity meshes with teachers’ brain activity. That’s a step in the right direction.  But if you ask veteran teachers why the same lesson works so well with one group of students but not with another, they’ll likely tell you that their personalities were not in sync.  The goal, therefore, is to try to find ways to overcome that mismatch.

When I was teaching English, I tried to engage students in all my classes.  Yet as hard as I tried to tweak the lesson to fit what I perceived as the unique personality of a particular class, too often the lesson was a flop.  Perhaps that was because I didn’t give proper weight to cultural factors.  When Third World immigration resulted in an influx of students from around the globe in my high school, the district gave teachers little support in preparing us.

In the dating scene, two people click when the “chemistry” is right. I maintain that the same thing applies to successful instruction and learning in schools.

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4 Replies to “Teacher personality plays big role in student learning”

  1. Might be true, but if so — what remedy?

    I no doubt I was lucky to do K-12 in a NYC suburban school system in the 1950s-1960s where most of the teachers were excellent (well-credentialed — based on their colleges as listed in my high school yearbook — and well-paid for the time — based on conversations with attorneys who have represented Long Island teachers unions).

    Speaking from personal experience, in hindsight, the teachers who taught me the most were not the most popular or entertaining teachers. If you had asked me back then if a particular lesson “clicked”, I would probably have said the popular/entertaining teachers’ lessons clicked while the teachers who taught me the most — their lessons were kind of boring.


  2. Labor Lawyer: You have a point. Teaching is not supposed to be a popularity contest. Sometimes, there’s an inverse relation between personality and learning. Nevertheless, personality shouldn’t be automatically ruled out. Like you, I attended a suburban public school on Long Island, N.Y. in the early 1950s.


  3. Not a teacher, so I’m guessing here. But, seems to me that the most important characteristic for a successful teacher is diligence — that is, doing the hard work required to prepare effective lessons and provide effective feedback day-in/day-out over the entire year. This same characteristic applies to most professional jobs — assuming that a professional employee has the skills/smarts to do the work in the first place (probably does, if hired through a rational hiring process), then the difference between a good and a bad teacher will be how hard the teacher works. “Great” teachers probably need particular personality traits as well, but I’d take the diligent teacher lacking the personality traits over the lazy or inattentive teacher with the personality traits.


  4. Labor Lawyer: Unfortunately high school students don’t always understand what teachers do to prepare lessons. Teachers can break their necks to design challenging and interesting lessons and still find students who are turned off by their teacher’s personality.


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