The Urban Review

, Volume 44, Issue 4, pp 441–467

“You’re Trying to Know Me”: Students from Nondominant Groups Respond to Teacher Personalism


DOI: 10.1007/s11256-011-0195-9

Cite this article as:
Phillippo, K. Urban Rev (2012) 44: 441. doi:10.1007/s11256-011-0195-9


Urban school districts have increasingly enacted policies of personalism, such as converting large schools into smaller schools. Such policies ask teachers to develop supportive, individual relationships with students as a presumed lever for student achievement. Research on student–teacher relationships generally supports policies of personalism. Much of this literature also considers these relationships’ sociocultural dimensions, and so leads to questions about how low-income youth and youth of color might respond to teacher efforts to develop closer relationships with them. This qualitative study, conducted over 1 year with 34 youth at 3 small, urban high schools, explores how youth from nondominant groups responded to teacher personalism. Data show that teacher practices consistent with culturally-responsive pedagogy and relational trust literature do promote student–teacher relationships. However, tensions arose when participants perceived that teacher personalism threatened their privacy or agency. Sociocultural and institutional contexts contributed to these tensions, as participants navigated personalism amidst experiences that constrained their trust in schools. A staged model of student–teacher relationships integrates these findings and extends current thinking about culturally-responsive personalism. These findings inform implications for teacher practice and policies of personalism.


Urban educationStudent–teacher relationshipsTeacher personalismRelational trustCulturally-responsive pedagogySmall schools

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Cultural and Educational Policy StudiesSchool of Education, Loyola University ChicagoChicagoUSA