In some way or another, all teachers, instructors, and professors care about their students. We care about their progress in our class, in other classes, their goals, their futures, their lives (but not their excuses!). We establish rapport, classroom communities, safe spaces. We are more than just knowledge distributors – we are advisers, counselors, and friends – even if we don’t want to be.
Teacher-student rapport is one thing I thought I had nailed – checked off my list, so to speak. Something I was good at and knew about. However, recently I realized that the rapport I thought I had in the past is nothing compared to the interrelationships I have built up over the last semester.
When I was a middle school teacher in Korea, I saw my students once a week. Let me clarify this. I saw 500 students in 20 different classes once a week. If I/they were lucky, I saw them in the halls, so maybe twice a week. I had a special afterschool class and saw those students one more time. When I was in Japan, it was the same situation, except that I worked with a small group of students everyday after school on a drama competition.
When I taught undergraduate classes in Korea, I saw my students twice a week. Sometimes three times if they were brave enough to come into my office to ask for help. Some students took several of my courses and I saw them four times a week. My graduate students I only saw once a week.
Coming to a university intensive English program in the States, I see my students five times a week. Sometimes I see them around campus or at events – six times a week, maybe.
Once a week. Twice a week. Five times a week. These small numbers represent some pretty drastic differences. I didn’t realize the power of these differences until last Friday when a group of Japanese students returned home to Japan and a group of Brazilian students matriculated into the general university student population. It was sad. Very sad. And I wondered why. I had left students before, and it was always sad, but this was different. And then I realized it was because I had seen these students almost more than my own friends and family. I had learned their likes and dislikes, their stories, their jokes. I had seen them progress and change more clearly than any of my other students in the past.
This realization was profound for me because I never knew that one could connect with their students on this kind of level. My past experiences of rapport, affinity, comradery – whatever you want to call it – while, authentic and sincere, was nonetheless a watered down version of what I experience in only a single semester (in fact, two different terms of classes).
What’s the point of this? You can’t change how often you see your students. Truth be told, there are probably some students you don’t want to see five times a week. However, for the majority, the longer you spend with your students, the stronger the rapport, the stronger the connections, the stronger the classroom, and, I think, the stronger the learning.