What Makes a Great Teacher: Form Relationships with Students

Pearson is honored to support the National Teacher of the Year program.

We are amazed by the work great teachers do every day.

Teachers leave an impact on not just their students, but parents, their fellow educators and often the community.

We sat down with several State Teachers of the Year to discuss the art of great teaching.

A Real Relationship Takes Time

Jeff Baxter, literature teacher at Blue Valley West High School in Overland Park and Kansas State Teacher of the Year, shares his insights.

“Many student teachers who I have mentored are still very conscious of having the teacher-student relationship that is ‘I am in charge and you are learning from me.’ I don’t believe that is the best way to teach,” he says. “A real relationship takes time.” 

An Atmosphere of Trust

Jeff’s advice is to be vulnerable to create an atmosphere of trust in the classroom.

“If you don’t have trust, real learning can’t take place,” he says.

In his 30 years of teaching, he still follows the methods he learned from his grandmother.

“Allow students to ask questions. If they discover knowledge, it’ll stay with them. They’ll forget in a week or so if you just tell them,” he says. “I have no problem saying ‘I never saw that’ when a student has an insight about a book.”

A Teacher’s Homework: Getting to Know New Students

Before the first day of class, Jeff finds a school photo and learns a few things about each student.

“When they walk in the door that first day I can greet them by name and connect with them,” he says. “They begin to learn that they can trust me and that I can trust them.”

Jeff needs to know that students care about learning.

“If there is one thing that we have to do with today’s children is to help make them life-long learners. My parents could retire without having to go back to school or having to adapt to a new job market. That’s not possible now,” he says.

“I want to know what students care about. What is their real passion? Then I tie their passions to how I teach.”