Outside of the family, some of the primary influences in a child’s life are their teachers. It is estimated that children could spend anywhere between 18,000 to 25,000 hours in school from kindergarten to high school. While teachers have a crucial role in a child’s professional development, could they also have a long-term impact on their health? New research by Korea University indicates that it could.
Jinho Kim, assistant professor at Korea University and author of the paper, “The Quality of Social Relationships in Schools and Adult Health: Differential Effects of Student–Student Versus Student-Teacher Relationships” analyzed data of approximately 20,000 participants from the Adolescent to Adult Health study which is based in the U.S. This longitudinal study followed participants for 13 years, from grade 7 into early adulthood.
As teens, the subjects were asked about their relationships with peers as well questions such as “How often have you had trouble getting along with your teachers?” and “How much do you agree that teachers care about you?” As adults, participants were questioned about their physical and mental health and examined for measures of physical health, such as blood pressure and body mass index.
The results revealed that students who had positive relationships with teachers were more inclined to have better physical and mental health as well as lower levels of substance use.
The results revealed that students who had positive relationships with teachers were more inclined to have better physical and mental health as well as lower levels of substance use. Healthier student-teacher relations also pointed to a decrease in the chances of smoking and binge drinking. This comes after previous studies in the field have largely focused on the effect that relationships with peers have on people’s lives, noting that poorer dynamics could lead to a higher risk of health problems over a lifetime.
“This research suggests that improving students’ relationships with teachers could have important, positive and long-lasting effects beyond just academic success,” Kim said in a statement. “It could also have important health implications in the long run.”
From helping them overcome challenges like selective mutism to navigating their gender and sexual identities, people across the world have revealed how teachers have played a fundamental role in their formative years, and these new findings underline how integral educators are.
Actor Emily Blunt shared that she grew up with a stutter and struggled to hold a conversation and it was her high school teacher who encouraged her to try out for the school play and take up acting lessons.
By simply encouraging a shy child, recognizing that a child needs more attention, or living their lives as their authentic selves, teachers can often give young people that extra push to help them grow as individuals, with their impact being multi-faceted.
Thus, going beyond scholastic indicators, Kim recommends that it might be advisable for schools to monitor not only a student’s academic achievement but also their relationships with their teachers. This could include regularly assessing the quality of a student’s interpersonal relationships with their teachers
Schools should invest in training teachers on how to build warm and supportive relationships with their students, Kim said.