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Building a craving for education in all students

The importance of student/teacher relationships cannot be overstated. From expectations to classroom management strategy, the ways teachers interact with their students outside of instruction and assessments can decide academic outcomes. As part of Hope Street Group’s “Voice Activated” writing workshops, Charlotte-Mecklenburg student Max Fennell and Multi-Classroom Leader turned District Magnet Specialist Marquitta Mitchell share their thoughts on why teacher/student relationships matter.

Max Fennell, Student, Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools:

“But Max, you love school,” utters my father. He constantly reminds me of my passion for learning. As a young child, I had a genuine appreciation for education. I looked forward to completing assignments, attending class, and gaining knowledge. Summers always felt too long. If I was bored, I would pick up a book or make my own research project to keep myself entertained.

I truly had a love for school, until learning started to feel like a chore. As the years progressed, school lost its luster and my desire to learn went away with it. I labor through assignments and dread going to class in the morning. The mere thought of attending class can negatively affect my mood.

In the early years of my education, teachers always strived to make personal connections with each student and ensure they were getting the most out of their education. I always felt that my teachers were looking for ways to help me succeed. As I entered high school, however, I began to feel like I was on my own. The learning environment became more competitive and the teachers entertained the competition. My teachers weren’t as available to help me and they believed that I should be able to learn the curriculum on my own.

In order to learn, students must have a craving for education. This eagerness comes from the support of their educator.

I have been in too many classes in which my teacher seems to find joy in making assignments as difficult as possible. They assign projects with ambiguous instructions and provide vague answers to our questions. As students, we are bombarded with assignments and pressure to get the highest grade possible. We no longer have time to try and gain knowledge from school.

This forces us to shift our focus from learning to just getting the assignment done. This constant stress takes a toll on students, and in my case and many others, causes us to detest school. School becomes a burden that must be completed in order to allow access to a more enjoyable life. Students lose their fascination for learning and exploration of new subjects and begin to do the bare minimum on their assignments.

To fix this issue, teachers need to create a welcoming learning environment for students. An environment where students are able to ask teachers for help and receive the assistance they need. Teachers should be thorough and let students know that they are there for them. With the right assistance, learning can be made enjoyable.

Marquitta Mitchell, District Magnet Specialist, Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools:

…And learning should be enjoyable — for both teachers and their students. Here are a couple of ways I helped my students build up a craving for learning:

  • Each day in my classroom was a new day, and I constantly communicated that to my students. I wanted them to know it was normal to experience obstacles, and it was possible to start each day with a clean slate. I taught students who came from all kinds of challenging out-of-school situations — abuse, neglect, parents who were overbearing and parents who were nonexistent, gang affiliations and immigration challenges — but they were all rock stars in our classroom who had the freedom to keep pushing for excellence. Whatever issues they encountered before they stepped through the threshold of our classroom would not be held against them, and it was okay to put the past in the past.
  • Every assignment had a purpose, and with that came plenty of opportunities for students to gain understanding of something new. I never believed in assigning busy work. That is the fastest way to kill students’ engagement. I wanted them to be surprised, maybe even shocked, when they walked through the door, excited at what they would experience each day. I oftentimes changed the seating, started with a mystery we would work to solve (PBL style), or provided them with some opportunities to choose how they would learn for the day. I was ecstatic to teach them new things, and my excitement oftentimes rubbed off onto my students.
  • Because it was important to me that students progressed in their learning, I made it a point to check in with them regularly, both individually and as a whole class. From those conversations, I knew when the lessons were moving too fast or too slow, and I got to hear students’ true feelings about the education they were receiving. Those individual conversations provided opportunities to talk to students about their data, how I could provide additional help, and ways they could improve. The check-ins reinforced that I greatly valued their input, and that I wasn’t planning to leave them out of their educational journey.

Many times, teachers are told to increase the rigor, increase the number of assignments, and increase the number of students in their classes. All of these circumstances can contribute to teachers turning what could be an incredible opportunity for engaging in inquiry and collaboration into a boring and sometimes rushed classroom experience. 

With intention and time, however, teachers can create what Max rightly requests — “a welcoming learning environment for students.”

Marquitta Mitchell

Marquitta Mitchell is a Magnet Programs Specialist for Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools and a Hope Street Group fellow. She has two bachelor degrees from North Carolina State University and a Master of Arts in English from National University. She has been an educator in the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools district for 11 years.

Max Fennell

Max Fennell is a student in Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools.