WASHINGTON — Putting forth our best effort in school doesn’t just make us brighter, it can also make us physically healthier. New research shows that teens who have strong relationships with their teachers have better health in adulthood.
Previous research concludes that poor social relationships can lead to chronic stress. This, of course, can raise a person’s risk of both mental and physical health problems over their lifespan. Most studies on teens, however, revolve around their relationships with peers, not their teachers.
“This research suggests that improving students’ relationships with teachers could have important, positive and long-lasting effects beyond just academic success,” says study co-author Jinho Kim in a statement to the American Psychological Association. “It could also have important health implications in the long run.”
Kim is an assistant professor in the Department of Health Policy and Management at Korea University. For their research, Kim’s team collected data on nearly 20,000 American students tracked from seventh grade through early adulthood. The study included 3,400 pairs of siblings.
Participants were asked questions including, “How often have you had trouble getting along with other students?” and “How much do you agree that teachers care about you?” During follow-ups as adults, they were surveyed on their mental health and provide measurements of physical health, such as blood pressure and BMI.
Clear connection between students’ and teachers’ relationships on health
Students who had positive relationships with their peers and teachers reported better health in their 20s. But when controlling for family backgrounds using the pairs of siblings, only the link between a student’s connection with teachers and their health in adulthood remained significant.
Kim says the results show teacher relationships are even more important than previously realized. Schools should invest in training teachers on building support with students because it can have such a profound impact.
“This is not something that most teachers receive much training in, but it should be,” adds Kim.
A previous review of educational research analysis of 46 studies found strong teacher-student relationships were associated in both short and long-term improvements in higher student academic engagement, attendance, grades, and fewer disruptive behaviours and suspensions.
Teachers were also found to benefit, with a study in the European Journal of Psychology of Education showing that a teacher’s relationship with students was the best predictor of how much the teacher experienced joy versus anxiety in class.
The study is published in the journal School Psychology.