Establish Rapport or Teaching's a Bore
Establishing a rapport with my students has been the most ‘natural’ part of my teaching experience. When I started my teaching career about ten years ago, ideas like classroom management and lesson planning were alien to me. I struggled immensely trying to learn strategies to excel in that area of education. Establishing relationships with my students was easy and always seemed to just happen for me. As the years have passed, I’ve been able to reflect on my time in the classroom and I’ve discovered some common denominators relating to me why exactly students are drawn to me (and me to them!). I think other people can learn from my interactions with the students who have passed through my classroom.
This post was written by our TEFL certification graduate Tim M. Please note that this blog post might not necessarily represent the beliefs or opinions of ITTT.
The first quality that I think endears me to my students is my youthful persona.
I don’t have kids of my own and I’ve never had any other ‘serious’, life-long responsibility. I think this has allowed me to keep a youthful perspective on life and to keep my mind open to the realities of teenage stress. What I see from a lot of my older or ‘established’ (i.e. has family) colleagues is the tendency to minimize the stress and problems of teenagers. I’ve noticed a lot of older teachers sort of scoffing at the things that bother students with an air of ‘wait until you have REAL stress when you grow up…” Even though I completely agree with my colleagues, I still understand what the students are going through. I also understand how difficult it is for many of them to see the long term benefits of education and the appeal of socializing over studying. This is something I understand logically but it’s also something I relate too and that is the source of my youthful persona, I think.
Another quality that I know helps me relate to students and build rapport is the way I talk to the students.
I learned early on that yelling and frustration ruin my day and I changed my behavior. Many times over the years I have been told that I am the calmest teacher the student has ever had. I know my students appreciate that. I also have had many students tell me that I’m more like an older brother or cousin than a teacher. At first, I was worried it was because I was too lenient, but I later realized it goes back to how I talk to the students. I don’t talk down to them and I treat them as equals, not as kids. I also talk to my students consistently about non-school related topics, I reach out to the students who talk to me the least, and I always have my eyes open for someone who might be sad or in a bad mood. These things happen naturally for me, it’s not something I’m doing with the intention of making a student like me and I think that the genuine nature of my desire to know people transfers into the student’s opinion of me. It makes my students feel safer and more confident to act naturally around me too.
The final quality I’d like to mention now is my extreme flexibility and fluidity.
I say I am flexible because many things are up for debate with me. For instance, students can modify their own assignment requirements or expectations if he/she can explain why they want to make the change and how he/she will still be able to demonstrate the skill or knowledge I’m looking for. I am also very flexible in a number of other areas, so long as the student asks before doing (i.e. switching seats, using headphones). Furthermore, I have no problem switching activities if what we’re doing is boring or not working and I have no problem taking suggestions from students and doing whatever it is they suggest if it fits within the lesson.
Building rapport with students is essential to a successful classroom (and a stress-free job). I’ve found that my personality and ability to build friendships with my students have supported my classroom management by making it easier to discipline, to demand a rule be followed, or to require students to redo assignments over and over and over to achieve high-quality results.
I’ve experienced common pitfalls from having success building relationships with students, for example, students treating too much like a friend and forgetting to maintain a teenager/adult or student/teacher professional relationship but I’ve also found, thanks to the rapport, an easy conversation is all it takes to remind him/her that we need to maintain certain levels of respect (most recently with a student who started calling me by my first name).
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I think building relationships is essential and cannot be ignored by teachers. Without rapport at any level, I’ve found it impossible to help students reach high levels. With a careful eye on the ‘line’, I have been successful on all levels I’ve taught thanks in large part to my ability to foster relationships with the students. It’s made my job far more rewarding too!
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