Connecting with students is one of the greatest parts of being a professor. The students come from many backgrounds and walks of life. They come up with so many wonderful and brilliant ideas. They amaze me. My students are truly the best.
What I love about connecting with my students is that I get to know them as individuals. Students, to me, are not just young adults. I see students as future leaders that will change the world. Some students have struggles, and that’s normal.
Connecting Starts With Understanding
The first thing that stands out to me with my students is understanding the situation that they are in. Some of my students come into the classroom and they have just graduated. They are in a position that is incredibly frightening to them. These students are in the between moment of society where they are in between adulthood and still being a kid. They are still in the process of learning who they are and who they want to be.
This is such a struggle for them. This time in a persons life feels so critical. Every and all decisions seem like the biggest deal in the world. Plus, parents, grandparents, family members, friends, and outside influences tell them they cannot fail. This is so traumatizing to the student.
Other students come in during their wiser years. Perhaps they are wanting to change careers or pursue that lifelong dream of finishing college. It is intimidating being the the oldest person in a college classroom, especially if the person is older than the professor. This is scary to them, even though most won’t admit it.
Communicating with students is all about getting into the students mindset and empathizing with what they are facing. They have so many questions and no one to talk with.
Communicating with my students is vital to me. I actually require a two minute to three minute free write at the beginning of every class. The reason? It helps me get into my students head and mindset. I use it to take attendance.
However, I don’t stop there. I actually turn around and reply to every students free write. Yes, it takes time, and yes, it’s extra work, however it gives them the opportunity to communicate with me privately.
I have learned so many things about so many students that have astounded me. They begin to open up about their personal problems. Many confide in me about uncertainty in life and ask questions about how to adult. Some just need someone to listen to them.
And I do.
Sometimes there are things that are out of my hands and above my pay grade. In those cases I recommend the resources that the school has to offer that many don’t know about. Those do not happen very often though. Many times, they just need someone to talk to, and it helps them to have that confidant. Additionally, whatever they tell me is never repeated unless I feel danger is involved.
Connecting With Students Requires Entertaining
Like any relationship one has to work on it. Students come to school to learn, and nothing is worse than being bored to death. If a student enjoys the classroom time they will enjoy the learning process. This is why it is so important to bring in different techniques into the classroom.
I try to use as much multimedia, group discussions, improv, and other ways to keep my students attention. This can be hard when there are so many different personalities. However, it’s important to get how the students learn.
Entertaining the student helps them learn without realizing that they are learning. In fact, when a student likes a teacher they naturally strive to do better for that teacher.
Connecting With Students Requires Honesty
The first time I give my students back their papers they are horrified. I am brutally honest, but it’s personal one on one feedback that I can encourage them on.
Some students take offense to this, but as the semester goes on they find themselves getting better at their work. Of course, being brutally honest is cushioned gently. Most students are terrified of failure, but when they get the paper they are also encouraged.
Students don’t know what they are doing incorrectly if they are not told. It is important to point it out, but instead of making them feel like a failure to show them they can improve.
Holding Students Accountable
Oh goodness. This one is so hard. I remember during the Covid-19 pandemic my in-person class went online. My students slacked. I chastised them and told my supervisor if I didn’t they would all fail my class. The students realized that they were wrong, and that just because things happened the world kept moving.
This is the hardest lesson I have to teach my students. They are leaders and I treat them like leaders. However, I never want to embarrass a student. Most of these chastisements are done in my free writes back to them, or in the case above as a group.
I believe that if students know where they stand in a class they will want to do better. And, it’s important to encourage the students. If they feel there is no way to improve it can be scary. Giving them opportunities to help them succeed with their gifts help them.
On the flip side, when students exceed your expectations they need to be praised. This is another form of accountability that many people overlook. This is so important for them to see a sense of accomplishment.
Connecting With Students Requires Authenticity
We all know those fake people. Don’t try to be someone you are not. The first year I student taught I tried to be perfect. The ideal professor. However, I quickly learned that I hated it. The students were cold and closed off to me.
It wasn’t until I let my personality come out that they started warming up to me. My personality is warm, encouraging and nurturing. It’s not cold and stuffy. The students realized I was not the ideal professor, but someone that was different enough to recognize what they are going through. They didn’t expect a professor to come out with a sense of humor or to walk in with music playing.
That’s who I am. By letting them see who I am as a person they are able to connect with me better.
Finally, the more you connect with the student the more they will understand and know that you have their best interest at heart. That’s what they are looking for the most. Not a parent, not a friend, but someone who can support them and help them along the way.
As a professor, at the end of the day, that’s all we do. We are educators, and educators help students stumble through life’s lessons.