Teacher-Student Interpersonal Relationships: A Narrative Inquiry Study of the Characteristics of Educational Relationships in a Secondary School in Rural Texas
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As students leave their primary school and transition into secondary school, they begin a seven-year journey of self-realization, exploration, and development. Secondary students, conventionally, will interact with upwards of fifty or sixty teachers during their middle and high school careers, each with the potential to develop a lasting and profound relationship with their students. The interpersonal relationships developed between teachers and students have been studied since the late 1980s for their effects on student self-efficacy, motivation, self-actualization, and academic achievement. While most research focuses on teacher perceptions of their relationships with students, little is known about the lived experiences of these relationships from the student perspective. The purpose of this qualitative study is to understand the narratives surrounding middle school students and the positive relationships developed with their teachers. The study involves nine students, ranging from 6th grade through 8th grade in a rural school district in central Texas who participated in reflective journaling and interviews about their previous and current experiences with teacher-student relationships. I observed these students at their schools to include the day-to-day experiences shared between the students and their teachers, highlighting the direct interactions between students and their teachers. All participants were selected for this project based on their expressed interest in the study and previous conversations we had about the impact of the relationships they share with their secondary teachers. I collected and analyzed data through the lens of connoisseurship (Eisner, 2017), or a rich understanding of the environment and participants using my above-average knowledge of the cultural norms of the students and schools. I also tapped the theoretical lenses of Systems Theory (Pianta, 1999), Attachment Theory (Bowlby, 1971), and ethnomethodology (Garfinkle, 1967; Garfinkle, 2006). This study has the potential to influence teachers’ understanding of the relationships they share with their students and provide a richer insight into how these relationships affect their students’ self-efficacy, agency, and motivations concerning schooling. Another potential significance of this study is that it can influence teacher professional development at the collegiate level for pre-service teachers and throughout their service by creating awareness of the importance of educational relationships. An analysis of the data revealed that students do not naturally separate characteristics of their teachers’ personality from how they view their relationships with the teacher, but rather are comfortable describing who their teacher is to them and how that affects them in and out of school. While the primary purpose of this study was to understand the characteristics of positive teacher-student relationships, the final analysis and discussion covers the broader topic of how participating students view their teachers and what this perspective has done for them on a social-emotional, as well as educational level. In the discussion chapter, I make recommendations for future research surrounding the topic and the need for future research into the in-school personas of teachers and their need to adjust to fit the needs of students continually.