A strong student-teacher relationship can play a key role in learning health and sex education. Students feel more comfortable with regular teachers and are able to joke around and laugh with the teachers, but also take them more seriously, find researchers from Ohio State University and the University of Kentucky.
Because of the established relationship regular classroom teachers have with their students, it may be easier for adolescents to talk with and learn from someone who already knows them as individuals.
In the study conducted in nearly 700 high school students in central and northern Kentucky, the team found that it was easier for the kids to talk about personal stuff with someone they knew.
"The actual person teaching makes a difference in how students learn. When there is a good relationship that really facilitates learning and motivation. And we found that in almost every area, the regular classroom teachers were more effective, they were better," said Eric Anderman, co-author of the study and professor of educational psychology at Ohio State.
"The relationship between the teacher and the student, particularly during adolescence, is very important. It was easier for the kids to talk about personal stuff with someone they knew.
"It was easier for them to absorb the material and become more interested in what they were talking about with their regular teacher in the classroom," he added.
During the study, the students were given the same curriculum and were taught by either their regular classroom teacher or a temporary educator. The participants were then surveyed prior to beginning the course and three to four weeks after completion about their experience. They were asked about their attitudes toward having sex and condom use, their goals and expectations toward the class, if they valued class material, and if they felt their health teachers were credible and likeable.
The team found that almost every category, the regular classroom teachers had the more positive results. Students often expect to be tested more often by their regular teacher than by a temporary educator.
As a result, they may be more motivated to learn the material, to achieve high grades on tests, and to appear knowledgeable during classroom discussions.
Students in classrooms led by their regular teachers valued the course material more than did others. Instead of simply hearing a lecture on sex education, students were motivated to pay attention because they felt the class offered important information. They were perceived as more credible than their temporary counterparts.
Even students who had a sexual partner also participated in more classroom discussions with the regular teacher. They valued discussions, reporting that the discussions were higher in quality and more frequent overall.
"Students who had a sexual partner were more likely to say that there was class discussion going on with the regular teacher than those taught by the outside person. These kids were more likely to feel like there was discussion of these issues, rather than just the teacher lecturing to them," said Anderman.
The study will appear in an upcoming issue of the journal Health Promotion Practice.