Psychoanalysis

Student-Teacher Relationship

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In any type of learning situation you need to do your due diligence before entering into the relationship, regardless of whether your role will be that of student or teacher. We take the student-teacher situation to mean any and all relationships where one person, endowed with authority in an area based on real or perceived knowledge and skill, has as their authentically intended or merely supposed purpose to pass on that set of knowledge and skill, while the other person, lacking authority in an area based on the lack of knowledge and skill, has as their authentically intended or merely supposed purpose to acquire that set of knowledge and skill.

It should be immediately obvious from the phraseology above that there is often a lot going on below the surface that’s hidden from the conscious awareness of one or both parties. From the perspective of the student, the most important complicating factor is probably the nature of authority since the student-teacher relationship is by its very nature one of inequality. We have to make the distinction between irrational and rational authority in order to see why despite the student’s very best efforts sometimes the result is failure.

Irrational authority is not necessarily based upon real knowledge and skill, it’s based upon maintaining the perception that this knowledge and skill exist in order to maintain power imbalances. People don the cloak of authority by dressing in certain ways, by talking and acting in certain ways. Irrational authority is not at all interested in passing on knowledge and skill, usually because this knowledge and skill doesn’t exist in the first place and is only a parlor trick, but also because passing it on would equal the playing field and therefore put into jeopardy the emotional, psychological, and practical benefits enjoyed by the unequal power situation like feelings of superiority, esteem, and monetary rewards.

As a student it’s all too easy to be taken in by the trappings of authority, to be induced to believe that real knowledge and skill in the area in question exist, and just as importantly that the teacher is actively interested in passing on this knowledge and skill. It’s easy to be fooled because of the obvious fact that you can’t know what you don’t know. How can you judge the quality of knowledge and skill in an area when you lack this very knowledge and skill?

When the student-teacher relationship is defined by irrational authority then despite your best efforts as a student the result will probably be failure, or at least a worse outcome than could have been expected under ideal conditions. As the student you will probably never know how or why things went wrong. You’ll blame yourself for falling short of the mark when actually the game was rigged from the start.

As a teacher you’ve got to be careful when taking on a student too. The most important complicating factor lies in the fact that conscious intention and unconscious intention are often at odds with one another. Consciously a student may profess the desire to work hard, to submit to the program and follow it to completion, but unconsciously this same student might lack motivation and commitment, might be wishy washy, might be just as afraid of success as of failure.

In these cases despite your best efforts as a teacher the result will probably be failure, or at least a worse outcome than could have been expected under ideal conditions. But the student will probably project this failure onto you, blaming the bad result not on lack of effort or ability but on the deficits of the program or your deficits as a teacher. As the teacher you will probably never know how or why things went wrong. You’ll blame yourself for falling short of the mark when actually the game was rigged from the start.

There are certain pitfalls inherent in the student-teacher situation regardless of which role you find yourself taking on. It’s not a relationship to be entered into lightly but one that requires due diligence so that you can be reasonably sure of underlying intentions as well as actual knowledge and ability, thereby increasing the likelihood of a good outcome for both of you.

Greetings I'm Michael, the owner of Evolution Counseling and the author of all the articles on this site. I got my master's degree from Seattle University in community mental heath counseling and have committed myself to advancing my knowledge of psychology and to evolving my own philosophical system ever since. In addition to the content on this site I offer online coaching using Skype. If you'd like to learn more about it click on the online coaching tab or if you think you'd like to set up a session send me an email at evolve@evolutioncounseling.com.

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