Like most of us I can’t hide my feelings. They show on my face, or in the set of my shoulders, or the sweaty palm prints I leave on the desk or table. Most students (like anybody else) will assume that my feelings have something to do with them. Here’s an example:
I’m in the middle of teaching and the student asks me to explain something again. (He still doesn’t get it after the third time.) I’m about to start the explanation when I notice the clock and suddenly remember that I have to cut this session short for an emergency meeting about a crisis in the program.
All my feelings about the meeting come over me–worry, wonder, anger, confusion, etc. These feelings show on my face or in my body–tight lips, far-away look, and hunched shoulders.
If I give a hurried explanation of the material the student is working on and rush him out, he will likely assume that I am angry with him because he asked for more explanation, that I think he is stupid, and that he may indeed be stupid. He will think twice before he asks me for help again, and all my work to establish a safe atmosphere where he can ask questions will go by the board.
One strategy for maintaining good relations with students is to say how I feel. So I try it. “I’m sorry I forgot to tell you, but I’m going to have to leave early today. There’s a big meeting coming up, and just the thought of it has made me upset, as you can see. Meetings with the boss will do that to you.
“Give me a minute to calm myself down, and we’ll make a plan. I want to be sure you get some help with this question; I’m really glad you asked for help now, and didn’t go home to be frustrated with it there.”
I can take a moment to settle myself and then the student and I can figure out what to do so he gets some help and I get to my meeting.
My relationship with him is stronger rather than weaker, because we have worked together to solve the problem of when/how to give him help. I have shown that I’m human, and he doesn’t get the false idea that I think he is stupid or that his questions are a bother.
Again, this is a strategy that is not always easy to do, but worth it to prevent students from making wrong assumptions about me. It is not always easy to notice my own feelings as they flit over my face, and saying what I’m feeling makes me a little vulnerable to my students.
Still, it makes me human, and there we are, two humans together, teacher and student, trying to get something accomplished.
This is the fourth of five strategies for developing stronger relationships with learners. See also "Listen," "Yes Means Yes," "Make Your Teaching Transparent"