Tell Your Students You Love Them, Appropriately

Hearts on a page indicating love

If you ask an instructor, “Do you love your students?” some, maybe many, would agree that they do. If not, you might ask them about qualities of love: Do you care about a student’s success even apart from your own? Would you help them through a crisis? Do you put in hard work on their behalf, even if it is sometimes unrewarded? Perhaps more would agree that they love their students.

Next question: Do your students know it?

We might miss it in the cold reporting of COVID-19 cases or the painful budget cuts to higher education, but the treacherous events of teaching and living in these times demonstrate the real importance of love. Certainly, love is not just a pandemic “thing”; teachers have shown love for their students for ages. But the nature of these times is a stark reminder of our need to love and be loved.  It is a reminder, too, that sometimes people need to hear that they are loved.

Our students need to hear that they are loved.

As a wealth of recent scholarship on teaching and learning explains, emotions matter for the learning process (Cavanagh, 2016; Eyler, 2018; Mendzheritskaya & Hansen, 2019). Student motivation depends at least in part on feeling supported, valued, welcomed, and wanted in one’s learning environment (Ambrose et al., 2010). Once those basic needs are met, students can grow excited about the topics they are studying and about learning something new. They may even begin to create knowledge all on their own. As the quality of the interpersonal environment increases, generally so too does the motivation to learn. That is, being loved can build a love of learning.

Being told that we are loved triggers psychological and physiological responses in our body. Psychologists have shown that humans have a need to be loved; this may indeed be one of our fundamental human needs and one of our primary goals in life. As some would say, it is what makes life meaningful.

It should come as no surprise, then, that students want to experience love, particularly when our interactions are limited by the cold interface of Zoom, blocked by the necessary face masks, or staged six feet apart or more. We should tell our students that we love them.

This advice is not for everyone. If you have boundary issues with students, this article probably is not for you. Too many predatory professors need more training and more ethics in working with students. To be perfectly clear: this is not an invitation to harassment. No. True love knows its boundaries.

How then should we communicate our love to students?

One way is to casually and collectively tell students that you love them. My favorite phrases to do so include: “This is why I love this class,” “I love the perspectives and experiences you bring to this discussion,” and “I do love y’all, but I didn’t grade your papers last night.” This lets students know that love is extended to everyone and that it is not conditional on their individual performance. It is easy to slip these phrases into class conversations. At the end of each semester, I am sure to tell my students, “I love you all; thank you for your work this semester.”

When interacting with students you know well, it may be appropriate to tell them: “I love having you in class, and I am glad that I get to keep working with you next semester” or “I really love the effort that you put into this assignment.” This recognizes and celebrates their individuality in a professional way.

I might tell a student that “we’d love to have you join” as I invite them to participate in an activity they may enjoy, or “I would love to have you as a political science major” as we talk about them potentially declaring a new major. This acknowledges to students that their presence is valued.

Although it may exist, I have yet to find a context where it is appropriate to merely say “I love you” to an individual student.

Whether we acknowledge it or not, academics are not exactly known for their social skills, so err on the side of caution. Actions do still speak louder than words. However, words are important too. We should not minimize the power of reinforcing to students that they are loved, as long as it is done so in an appropriate way.

Why should we tell students we love them?

College students face many challenges today that are exacerbated by the social events of recent times. We are experiencing a substantial mental health crisis that may very well continue to expand in scope. While telling students they are loved will not change policies or provide clinical resources, it is a small step towards giving students a greater sense of security and support in an area of their lives that may more often than not be defined by assignment deadlines and grades.

The benefits of telling students that they are loved extends directly to the classroom. Students are more likely to engage in meaningful discussion when they feel like they belong and are supported by their instructor. They may feel more emotionally connected to the class and more efficacious in their academic mindset. Moreover, knowing that they have social stability in their relationship with their instructor may provide cover when wading into potentially thorny political or philosophic issues, as is often the case in my classes. In particular, students who come from backgrounds of trauma or oppression may especially benefit from the support and knowledge that they are loved (Freire, 2000).

Ultimately, being intentional about telling students that I love them does just as much for me as it does for my students. It reminds me of the human side of education and my motivation for teaching in the first place: the students. It feels good to encourage students and to build trust in my classroom, whether that be a physical or a virtual space. And at the end of the day, sometimes our work environments need more love too. Like students, we need to love and to be loved.

We could really use some more love right now, so tell your students you love them, appropriately.

Andre P. Audette is an assistant professor of political science at Monmouth College.


Ambrose, Susan A., Michael W. Bridges, Michele DiPietro, Marsha C. Lovett, and Marie K. Norman. How Learning Works: 7 Research-Based Principles for Smart Teaching. Jossey-Bass, 2010.

Cavanagh, Sarah Rose. The Spark of Learning: Energizing the Classroom with the Science of Emotion. West Virginia University Press, 2016.

Eyler, Joshua R. How Humans Learn: The Science and Stories behind Effective College Teaching. West Virginia University Press, 2018.

Friere, Paulo. Pedagogy of the Oppressed, 30th Anniversary Edition. Continuum, 2000.

Mendzheritskaya, Julia and Miriam Hansen. “The Role of Emotions in Higher Education Teaching and Learning Processes.” Studies in Higher Education 44 (2019), no. 10: 1709-1711.