Be on my side, I'll be on your side: teachers' perceptions of teacher-student relationships

L. Claessens

Research output: ThesisPhd Thesis 4 Research NOT TU/e / Graduation NOT TU/e)


The quality of teacher–student relationships is important for teacher job satisfaction. High quality relationships have been described as warm and open; in these relationships the teacher creates a structured environment with clear expectations whilst simultaneously conveying a message of empathy and mutual respect. Low quality relationships on the other hand, are characterized by high conflict and discordance between teacher and student and described by teachers as disrespectful, distant, or conflictual. More insight in how teachers experience teacher–student relationships can improve our understanding of teachers’ relational needs. However, in literature, these studies are underrepresented, particularly in the case of secondary school teachers. In the four studies presented in this dissertation, we have explored secondary school teachers’ perceptions of teacher–student relationships. In order to conceptualize these perceptions, we made use of relational schema theory. Relational schemas can be regarded as mental maps of relationships with individuals which are activated when interacting with another person, guide attention towards specific aspects of these interactions and thus guide subsequent behaviour. Throughout the studies in this dissertation, our main research question was: what cognitions constitute teachers’ relational schemas of teacher–student relationships? Relational schemas consist of a schema of the other (in these studies, the student), a schema of the self (in these studies, the teacher), and scripts (if-then expectancies on how interactions will proceed). Our research shows that, when comparing teachers’ relational schemas of positive and problematic relationships, especially accounts of the other schema differ. In these other schemas, student characteristics that proved most different were student agreeableness, student social characteristics (influence on peers and interest in the teacher), student motivational qualities (being motivated in during the lesson and being interested in the subject), and student behaviour in terms of friendliness. Other differences in teachers’ descriptions of positive and problematic relationships concerned location of the interactions and topic of talk; interactions in problematic relationships took place mostly during lesson time and concerned mainly student misbehaviour, interactions in positive relationships more often took place outside of the classroom and covered a wide range of topics. When comparing relational schemas of beginning teachers to those of experienced teachers, we found two underlying dimensions on which teachers’ relational schemas could differ: (1) relationships ranged from either revolving around the teacher to revolving around the student, and (2) relationships ranged from either having a formal character to having a personal character. On the first dimension we found clear differences between beginning teachers and experienced teachers; in beginning teachers’ narratives, the teacher’s goals, thoughts and feelings took central stage, in experienced teacher’s narratives the student’s goals, thoughts and feelings were most prominent. Results from these studies show that teachers have different relational needs and can inform practice on how to create environments in which these needs can be met

Original languageEnglish
QualificationDoctor of Philosophy
Awarding Institution
  • Utrecht University
  • van Tartwijk, Jan W.F., Promotor, External person
  • Wubbels, Theo H., Promotor, External person
  • Verloop, Nico, Promotor, External person
  • den Brok, P.J., Copromotor
Award date30 Sept 2016
Place of PublicationUtrecht
Print ISBNs978-90-393-6632-5
Publication statusPublished - 30 Sept 2016
Externally publishedYes


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