Occasionally I read old issues of the newsletter, usually looking for something I vaguely remember. Sometimes I find it and other times I don't, but pretty much always I stumble across something that I've completely forgotten that I wish I'd remembered. Case in point...
Occasionally I read old issues of the newsletter, usually looking for something I vaguely remember. Sometimes I find it and other times I don't, but pretty much always I stumble across something that I've completely forgotten that I wish I'd remembered. Case in point: an insightful piece offering a series of lessons learned after the first five years of teaching (it's in the February 2009 issue). I love the piece for its honesty. Some of the most important lessons about teaching are those most of us have had to learn the hard way.
Author Graham Broad writes: “At some point in the past year I decided that my initial belief that I could ‘reach' all students, and that all teaching problems could be resolved through correct pedagogy, wasn't optimism, it was egotism. Some students, I have come to understand, just aren't that into me.”
Reaching students means connecting with them, and even the seasoned among us sometimes forget just how strongly students do identify with us as persons. If you need a reminder, take a look at the piece in this issue that reports on the results of a qualitative analysis of comments on the Rate My Professor site. We could attribute the value students place on having “nice” professors to immaturity. We could point out that our job descriptions don't stipulate that students have to like us. And we would be correct. However, if students don't feel some sort of rapport with the teacher, that gets in the way of learning, especially when students aren't intrinsically motivated by our content.
That said, Broad's insight reveals another important point about connecting with students. It makes sense, and maybe we even have a professional responsibility to try to reach all students, but we are destined to fail with some, and it's egotistical to imagine otherwise. Students and teachers are all unique human beings. We wear our individuality in different ways. Some of those ways are meaningful to some students and not to others. Part of the maturity we need includes an acceptance of the fact that who we are and how we teach may be genuine and authentic, but that we will still not connect with certain students. Now, if we regularly don't connect with significant numbers of students, that is an issue, but not for now.
We don't always think about how diverse the college experience is for students. They take courses with diverse content, all (or most) taught by different teachers. Chances are good that students will connect with a teacher, maybe even several. It doesn't take a connection with every teacher to make a potent educational experience. How many of us have those favorite stories of that one encounter with a teacher that changed the direction of our lives? So, when we've got one (or several) of those students who don't respond to our attempts to connect, we don't take it personally, we don't give up with that student, and we keep our fingers crossed that in some other course with some other professor that student will make one of those connections that shifts their educational experience into higher gear.