The Role of Teacher-Student Rapport in English Learning
The findings of the study the English Café committee of our university conducted prompted me to revisit the topic “rapport between teachers and students” and reexamine how it affects English learning. The main objectives of the study were: to examine the effects of English lounges on the development of the speaking ability of students and their attitude towards foreign teachers teaching them English; and to determine which of the two modes of delivering conversation lounges is more effective – face-to-face or online. Additionally, the paper also evaluated the significant relationships between the variables of the study, namely, students’ speaking ability, students’ attitude towards foreign teachers, educational qualification of teachers, and teachers’ length of service. The first two variables are student-related factors, the other two are obviously teacher-related.
Results have shown that the said lounges improved both the students’ speaking ability and their attitude toward foreign teachers. And as perceived by both groups of respondents – teachers and students – both in-person and virtual methods of delivering this out-of-class learning activity are effective.
What could be considered surprising were the results for the measurement of the significant relationships between the variables of the study. Educational qualifications of teachers and their length of service were hypothesized to significantly affect both the development of students’ speaking ability and their attitude toward foreign teachers. It is but natural to presume that the more education a teacher gets and the longer they have been teaching the better they become and that translates to better learning on the part of their students. But as it turned out, teachers’ educational qualification is not correlated to the student-related variables aforementioned. Teacher’s length of service, on the other hand, is negatively correlated to the said variables. What came out to be significantly positively correlated to students’ speaking ability is their attitude toward foreign teachers. This means that when students have a positive attitude towards their teachers, the more likely that their speaking ability improves.
After estimating for correlation, a regression analysis was subsequently performed to further evaluate the relationship between those student-related variables. Results have shown that students’ attitude toward foreign teachers has a significant positive influence on their speaking ability.
Undoubtedly, a healthy student-teacher relationship is one of the foundations of effective learning not only in English but also in any subject area. Students are motivated (and very likely) to learn if they view their teachers as approachable, friendly, and caring. This positive connection between students and their teachers is encapsulated in the educational construct called “rapport between students and teachers.” But despite its significance, only a handful of studies were conducted on the topic. Researchers claim that the reason for this is rapport, as an instructional variable, may have tremendous face validity for management education, yet from a research perspective is somewhat “tricky to understand.”1
The Collins dictionary explains that “if two people or groups have rapport, they have a good relationship in which they are able to understand each other’s ideas or feelings very well.” In the educational setting, teachers and students may affect each other either in a positive or a negative way. Teacher-student rapport indicates a positive relationship the absence of which results in a stressful academic environment. “Rapport is a harmonious teacher-student relationship which encompasses enjoyment, connection, respect, and mutual trust.”2 “Establishing friendly relations with pupils enables teachers to enhance students’ willingness to engage in the learning process.3
The positive correlation between the students’ speaking ability and their attitude towards foreign teachers in the study performed by the English Café committee of our university indicates that the more the students demonstrate a positive attitude toward their teachers, the more they improve in their speaking ability. This, as previously mentioned, was supported by the regression analysis where the values reveal that the students’ attitude towards foreign teachers positively influences their speaking ability.
When rapport is present in the classroom, it means that existing is a level of affinity or sincere interpersonal relationship between a teacher and their students.4 Establishing rapport is one of the difficult challenges that English teachers face when teaching in other countries.
Foreign teachers teaching in countries where English is either a second or a foreign language should not be focused solely on delivering their course contents. Like farmers, before sowing the seed, they need to plow the farmland first. Winning the trust and confidence of the students is equivalent to tilling the soil. Teaching content without establishing a positive relationship with the students first is like sowing seeds on untilled soil.
It is possible that students would feel hesitant to engage with their English teachers for a variety of reasons. One of those is students’ level of English. While the advanced students may feel excited to engage with their foreign teacher so they could practice their English, the beginners or lower intermediate students may feel uncomfortable or worried. A teacher’s friendly demeanor could help alleviate such discomfort and worry.
Another possible reason is the fact that their teachers are foreigners. A wall called cultural barrier immediately rises as soon as the foreign teacher enters the classroom. The student, no matter what level of English they are at, would be anxious not knowing what to expect from their foreign teachers. It is therefore a must for the teachers to set the tone right during the first meeting. It is imperative for them to ensure that their students would feel not only comfortable but confident also to interact with them.
It may be true that teacher-student rapport is two-way traffic but the teachers, whether they like it or not, carry the burden of establishing it. “Building a positive relationship is a shared responsibility of the teacher and the students, but the teacher is in a leadership position when leading in-class learning or out-of-class learning, and assumes a greater part of that responsibility. English teachers have a bit more challenge because they are foreigners (to the native student population) and must win the trust and confidence of their students.”5
How teachers perform and treat their students is the primary means of cultivating the students’ positive attitude towards their foreign teachers.”5 What makes establishing rapport with the students more complicated for foreign teachers is the cultural barrier that exists between them and their students. They need to plow the soil a little bit harder than their local counterparts before sowing their seeds. They cannot afford to just focus on delivering their course contents without attempting to break through that cultural barrier at the same time, if not first.
“The attitudes of teachers towards the students are important variables that can affect the attitude of learners as well as the quality and quantity of the learning which takes place and the linguistic outcomes for the learner.”6 In studies where students were asked to identify what they think are the qualities of an effective teacher, competence and their correlates were not the ones that came out on top. One of the said studies had the ability to develop relationships with their students and patient, caring, and kind personality ranking 1st and 2nd, respectively.7 Both had nothing to do with pedagogy but rather the attitude of the teacher.
Competence and its correlates are the ones that teachers develop through their educational qualifications and length of service. And as our English Café committee study found out, the educational qualifications of teachers are not correlated to both the students’ speaking ability and their attitude towards foreign teachers. Note that the negative correlation between teachers’ length of service and the student-related variables that was previously stated is significant. “This inverse relationship implies that the longer the teachers have been teaching the lesser is the possibility of students improving their speaking ability.”5 Further studies may be needed to confirm these findings. But let me just add that in my Ph.D. dissertation where teacher’s length of service and students’ performance in English were among the variables, the said constructs had the same inverse relationship.
One question teachers (of English and other subjects) need to answer at this point is – How much effort are they putting into establishing a good rapport between them and their students?. “A learner who has better interaction with his teacher may develop a positive attitude toward the target language than those who have less interaction.”8
1. Buskist, W. & Saville, B. (2001). Creating positive emotional contexts for enhancing teaching and learning. APS Observer, 12-13.
2. Wilson, J. H., Ryan, R. G., and Pugh, J. L. (2010). Professor–student rapport scale predicts student outcomes. Teach. Psychol. 37, 246–251. doi: 10.1080/00986283.2010.510976
3. Ibarra, S. (2014). The Effect of Student-Teacher Rapport on Classroom Participation (Master’s Thesis). Cardinal Stritch University, Milwaukee, Wisconsin.
4. Jorgenson, J. (1992). Social approaches: Communication, rapport, and the interview: A social perspective. Communication Theory, 2, 148-156.
5. Ligaya, et al. (2021) Comparing the Effects of Face-to-Face and Online English Lounges on Students’ Speaking Ability and Attitude Toward Foreign Teachers. DOI 10.1109/CITC54365.2021.00011
6. F. D. Larsen, M. H. Long, “An Introduction to Second Language Acquisition”, New York: Pearson Education Limited, 1991.
8. A.S. Getie, M. Popescu, (2020). Factors affecting the attitudes of students towards learning English. Cogent Education, [Online] 7(1). Available: from https://doi.org/10.1080/2331186X.2020.1738184.