Students Should Love Their Schools

The United States spends an enormous amount of money developing methods for evaluating whether individual schools are performing well. I think we should spend that money hiring more teachers instead. Honestly, it is relatively easy to tell if a school is good – if it is, the students who attend it will speak of it in glowing terms. Our national obsession with ranking schools tends to neglect this way of measuring school quality. I have not seen data reporting on how students rate their schools.  The data I see is based on scores on standardized tests, and these tests are extremely expensive to develop and score.  Furthermore, it is a love of schooling that turns young people into that elusive but key commodity –  life-long learners. I believe that if we are going to issue report cards for schools then these should be at least partially based on how much students love their schools.

What kinds of schools do students tend to love? In my experience it is the schools whose teachers are given enough breathing room in their day to form relationships with their students. You can’t show a student you care about him or her if stream after stream of students enters your room without giving you time to linger and exchange a few words with  individual children. It’s hard to get to know one student when you teach hundreds of them. It’s difficult to develop positive relationships with students when you are asked to teach subjects that are not a comfortable fit with your interests and training. Schools need to work on creating the conditions that allow teachers to form healthy bonds with students.

Lots of different kinds of schools can allow teachers and students to form positive relationships if they make this a priority. Small schools have it easiest – size alone allows a child to be known by the adults in the school. Bigger schools can also be successful if they work at it. They need to group students and teachers into manageable teams, so that students feel connected to a consistent group of teachers who can know them well. Above all, whatever the size of the school, the administration needs to prioritize creating the conditions that will maximize connections. Time in school for teachers to get to know their students is where we should put our money.

What matters most to students is feeling valued by their teachers. Teaching style is far less important than the formation of positive relationships. A teacher can be old-school, or full of the latest technological magic – this is not what matters most.  I’d like to see schools ranked based on whether their students feel known, respected, and cared for.  I am sure that the top schools in such a ranking list would be those that end up creating the life-long learners we seek.





Kathreen Harrison

About Kathreen Harrison

Kathreen Harrison is a public school teacher in Maine. She has a master’s degree from Bank Street College of Education and a bachelor’s degree from Harvard College. She has worked in a variety of schools in New York and Maine in a number of capacities – French teacher, gifted and talented teacher, elementary school teacher, and curriculum coordinator for island schools. She has lived in Maine for 20 years and has a particular interest in school reform.