Teacher-Student Relations in the Language Classroom

October 2021

An integral part of any classroom is a teacher’s relationships with their students, and that’s what we’re devoting this issue to. How can language teachers connect with students and encourage them to greater learning? This question is at the heart of this issue, and our writers explore philosophy, dive into psychology, and share personal experiences that provide us clues to the answer.

Our cover: “Nine-tenths of education is encouragement.”  – Anatole France

photo by Tim Mossholder on unsplash.com; others from pixabay.com

Watch before you read...

In this Think Tank, we remember what is at the very heart of teaching: our relationships with our students. Classrooms may pivot online, curricula and assessment go through numerous changes over the years, but a teacher’s love for their students is a theme that remains constant.


Mohammad Khari starts this issue with a reminder to pause to consider the importance of human connection in the classroom. Meredith Stephens draws on insights from her personal experiences and the educational philosophy of Nel Noddings, inviting us to reflect on the value of personal relationships and human interaction in teaching.  


Next, Skye Playsted and Curtis Kelly take us back to the heart of teaching and encourage us to embrace, rather than shy away from, emotions in the classroom. The Think Tank Team then look back on the life-changing moments and relationships that inspired them to teach. Alessandro Grimaldi then focuses on the practical application of growth mindset principles and finally, Bruno Jactat looks at Searle’s fascinating “Chinese Room” experiment and reminds us of the importance of nurturing social environments.


In our Plus piece, we let the students tell us in their own words what they need from their teachers.

Our Thoughts on Teacher-Student Relations

The Kernel of Teaching: Human Connection Mohammad Khari

Let us take a moment and think about why we are doing what we are doing: teaching. Like many other professions, some do it for the money, some for the job security, some for the title, and some for the love of it. There is something to being a teacher that separates it from other professions, albeit teachers also like financial stability, recognition, and respect. We do it because we are extremely optimistic. Despite being aware of the challenges, demands, and the occasional turmoil of the profession, we yearn for those split seconds when a student blesses us with their curiosity. It is this marvelous aspect of teaching that makes it unique. “We are educators; we are born to make a difference” (Pierson, 2013).

Think Tank Articles

Why the Student-Teacher Relationship is Essential to Learning Meredith Stephens

“Teaching is a relation, one to which both teacher and student contribute” (Noddings, 2016, p. 53)

Before my interview for my first high school teaching post in 1983 I memorized the Education Department policies. The first policy is the only one that I still remember: “The student-teacher relationship is at the heart of learning.”

For the Love of Teaching (and love of your students) Skye Playsted (with Curtis Kelly)

 “No one should teach who is not in love with teaching” wrote the American poet Margaret E. Sangster in 1909. For some of us, teaching was a love affair that began in our youth; for others, it was a relationship that bloomed later in life. I [Skye] fell in love with teaching in the final year of my Arts degree. Not knowing what to do with my degree or my future, I decided I’d finish study as quickly as I could and find a job in a café somewhere to pay the bills. I took a single semester course called “The Four Macroskills of Teaching German,” as I’d enjoyed studying German as a second language, and it meant I could finish my degree within the semester rather than drag it out till the end of the year. I am forever indebted to the passionate educator who ran that course. She prompted us to ask ourselves questions about language learning concepts: how we felt when we were learning a new language, what we remembered as being difficult when we were learning something initially. I’d never asked myself questions about how I learned a second language, so by taking this short course, I learned how to reflect on and explore the language learning process. My eyes were suddenly opened to the joy of being able to understand and help someone else on their language learning journey. That was the start of my falling in love with teaching!

Why we Love to Teach The Think Tank Team

Editors: We asked some teachers around us about why they like teaching. Here are their six stories.

  • The magic of care and confidence
  • Sharing students’ “Aha!” moments

  • Believe in your students

  • A sacrifice worth making

  • For the love of literature!

  • Eisler’s repeating story

A Growth Mindset in the Classroom Alessandro Grimaldi

Have you thought about mindsets in your classroom? Look at the six statements below and think about to what extent you agree or disagree with them:

  1. Your intelligence is something very basic about you that you can’t change very much.
  2. You are a certain kind of person and there is not much that can be done to really change that.
  3. Truly smart people do not need to try hard.
  4. You can always change basic things about the kind of person you are.
  5. I appreciate when people, parents, coaches, or teachers, give me feedback about my performance.
  6. No matter how much intelligence you have, you can always change it quite a bit.
Figure 2 Visualization of John Searle's "Chinese Room." (Wikipedia)

Lost In Translation: Trapped Between the Four Walls of the Mind Bruno Jactat

Is it possible to learn without really understanding? And, moreover, pass tests or exams with flying colors? Hmm…let’s ponder those two for a minute… Understanding seems foundational for learning and even more for passing tests. Yet, could normative teaching—based on the concept of what a student should learn by a given age—and standardized testing be both skewed to such an extent that students could mindlessly take in and output information without really knowing what it meant? The answer to that question is an undisputable “Yes!” So, let’s look at how this learning without understanding happens, and what we can do about it in the language classroom.

Think Tank Plus

Dear Teacher: A Video Brainhighways

Watch this 2-minute video. Don’t ask why. Just watch.

Call for Contributions Think Tank Staff

Become a Think Tank star! Here are some of the future issue topics we are thinking about. Would you, or anyone you know, like to write about any of these? Or is there another topic you’d like to recommend? Do you have any suggestions for lead-in, or just plain interesting, videos? How about writing a book review? Or sending us a story about your experiences? Contact us.

How Will the Kids Remember You?

Danny Steele Blog

Something a Brazilian Teacher Does They Will Never Forget

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The MindBrained Think Tanks+

is produced by the Japan Association for Language Teaching (JALT) Mind, Brain, and Education Special Interest Group (BRAIN SIG). Kyoto, Japan. (ISSN 2434-1002)

Editorial Staff

Stephen M. Ryan                Julia Daley                   Marc Helgesen

        Curtis H. Kelly                 Skye Playsted                Heather McCulloch

    Jason Walters                  Rishma Hansil               Mohammad Khari




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