How the Best Teachers Treat Their Students, Matters

At the start we want to acknowledge that most faculty members work hard to treat their students with decency and respect. These are not qualities exclusive to Bain’s “best teachers.” In fact, a quick Internet search brought up several rich resources that consider what respectful behavior in the classroom looks like (Tomlinson, 2011; Respect and disrespect in class, 2004).

Before exploring how the best teachers treat their students, Bain and his colleagues described a fictitious professor – Dr. Wolf – who’s approach was the antithesis of respectful . This composite instructor was characterized by students as “arrogant, did not care about the students, ridiculed some people in class, often bragged about the high numbers of students who flunked (his/her) course, and set harsh and arbitrary demands … a control freak … reluctant to answer questions … seemed to take delight in trying to make students look dumb” (Bain, 2004, pg. 138).

In contrast, the best teachers “displayed not power but investment in the students” (Bain, 2004, pg. 139). Investment in students … what does that look like? Like any investment, surely it begins with a deposit. In addition to disciplinary knowledge, effective instructors can deposit stories of relevant personal experience; questions that keep disciplinary knowledge fresh, relevant, and intriguing; tried-and-true ways to learn course content; and positive statements about each student’s potential.

teacher investment in students

An investment requires the right environment to grow. Instructors who foster an environment of growth present disciplinary content in ways that helps students actively build their knowledge structures and relate disciplinary concepts to each other and to “every day life.” An environment in which your investment can grow creates and preserves a relationship of mutual respect and trust between professor and student and values what each member has to say. In this verdant environment, corrective feedback is provided in ways that foster students’ efforts. It acknowledges and values the reality that instructors and students are “fellow travelers in search of some small glimpse of ‘truth’” (Bain, 2004,  pg. 143)

As the semester draws to a close, we encourage you to look back and consider the many ways you’ve invested in your students. Like most investments, it may be months or years before you see growth; you may not see it at all. But know with certainty that your investment in your students will have an impact.

The golden rule of conduct
therefore, is mutual toleration,
seeing that we will never
think alike and we shall see
the Truth in fragments and from
different angles of visions. 

-Mahatma Gandhi


Bain, K. (2004). What the best college teachers do. (1st ed.). Cambridge: Harvard University Press.

Respect and disrespect in class. (2004). The Teaching Professor. Retrieved from

Tomlinson, C. A. (2011). One to grown on / respecting students. Educational Leadership, 69(1), 94-95. Retrieved from

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