This article is derived from a study of pupils with social, emotional and behavioural difficulties’ (SEBD) perceptions of their schooling experiences both in mainstream and residential schools. It is based on the accounts of 29 boys with severe SEBD who were attending a residential special school for children in New Zealand. Through in-depth, semi-structured and focus group interviews, a number of salient features of their schooling experiences were raised. One of these features was the pupils’ relationship with teachers. This article reports on pupils with SEBD’s perceptions of mainstream and residential school teachers’ qualities that either hinder or foster positive relationships and development.