Know Your Students – It’s the Key to Their Success


In Karen Hale Hankins’ article, “Voices Inside Schools”, she discusses the process of creating memoirs in response to her students, their experiences, and what she has learned from them, always relating back to her personal experiences. She presents the metaphor of the classroom as a symphony, with all students working together (81). She also discusses the ignorance of parents and teachers about the serious issues going on in students’ lives (84-86), catering to students’ needs (88), and truly listening to students and understanding their needs (93).


Hankins highlights the importance for teachers to get to know their students. She hit a breakthrough when she “began to see the connectedness of” her stories with those of her students (84). I agree that this is a very important part of teaching, because in my own experiences, I have felt like a good teacher when I understood my students’ individual backgrounds, personalities, and needs–when they could relate to me. Every year, I prepare for the fact that it would be difficult to get to know the students fully, considering the short amount of time I had with them. I generally get over this “hump” by creating a student interest survey, and have as many conversations with students as possible. By doing this, I am able to design the lessons with specific student interests and needs in mind.

There comes a point, though, when teachers try so hard to relate to their students that they lose respect as a result. Teaching is about maintaining a balance, in my opinion. At the risk of sounding clichÃ?©: “you are not their friend; you’re their teacher.” Some teachers try so hard to relate to their students that they run the risk of losing authority in the classroom. It is important for teachers to relate to form personal connections with students, but not to become their “friend.” Equality in the classroom is also important, in this regard. I can remember, when I was in high school, feeling alienated in the classroom when teachers held special bonds with individual students and not with the class as a whole.

When Hankins discusses the “shared denial” (84) that occurs within the school system, she touches on some good points. The fact of the matter is, though, that there will be things that the teacher does not know about the student’s personal life, and that’s the way it should be. Even though I believe strongly in connecting and relating to students, I still think that there is a boundary that should not be crossed. If a parent or a student does not want to share something about their personal lives, I think that it should remain between them. It is important for teachers to be approachable and understanding enough for students and parents to come to them if they have problems, but it is never the teacher’s place to pry for personal information, unless of course the student is at risk.

In order to begin to truly understand her students as well as herself, Hankins “wrote long into the night or too long after school” (84). Although I am a strong believer in creating personal connections with students and developing relationships with them, I think that there comes a time when the teacher needs to step back and realize that teaching is their job, not their life. There is only so much a teacher can do for their students, before it will consume his or her life, in my opinion.

How much commitment to teaching and to individual students is too much? It is ultimately a job, and sometimes making too much of an effort will overwhelm a teacher and their personal life. How do teachers deal with balancing their personal lives without getting caught up in fully understanding their students, when being a great teacher depends on this?


Hankin, Karen Hale. “Voices Inside Schools – Cacophony to Symphony: Memoirs in Teacher Research”. Harvard Educational Review, Harvard Education Publishing Group, Volume 68, Number 1 / Spring 1998.

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