One of the things that holds true for many teachers is that students often look at us as if we are different from other people they encounter in their lives. The awkward looks a teacher gets from students when they are see out in the wild at a store is an example of this. Many students do not have any other context to consider their teachers. This can be problematic because it can cause the creation of an us and them mentality.
I have found that it is important to humanize yourself as much as possible with students. Going about school every day all of the time sends only one message to students and that can make it hard for them to connect with you and potentially reach out if they have some non-school issues. I'm not suggesting opening up your closet and sharing your inner most feelings, but connecting with students in real ways can lead to stronger class connections and more engagement. Here are a few ways I have done this in the past.
1. Like many teachers, I make mistakes. I will type something up and share/post it for students. At the start of the year, a student will, almost gleefully, point out the mistake on the screen. I always take this as an opportunity to talk about mistakes and share my learning disability with them. I am dyslexic. I went undiagnosed until college. Things were tough and I just had to work harder. Despite that, I still chose to be an English teacher and choose to write as a means of self-expression. I am very honest with my students about this. I do not want them to think that I think I am perfect. The mistakes are going to happen and I let them know I appreciate letting me know, but there are better ways to do that than putting me on blast in front of the class. By sharing my learning disability, I know it has made a difference with students. Parents have told me how their child has come home to tell them that I struggle like they do and it gives them hope that they can overcome it.
2. For one of the books I wrote, I shared the first edit from the editor with my class. We had been talking about the value of proofreading for many weeks at the start of the year, but I wanted to let them know that I never expect perfection. My manuscript was read by 5-6 other people before it went to the editor and I still had plenty of mistakes and comments that needed to be addressed. Showing students that a book can still be filled with errors despite multiple people reading it over really reenforced the idea that proofreading makes pieces better.
3. I do something called the "First Five" in my class. I dedicated, roughly, the first five minutes of class to connect with students and talk about anything of interest. It might be sports, it might be music, it could be movies, or possibly video games. No matter what it is, I engage with students, sometimes one on one or in small groups, to talk about what is important to them. I might not be knowledgeable on all of the topics, but I'm ready to listen and engage. Those small moments at the start of class build relationships with students that lead to more engaged students.
It can be easy to get into the hustle and bustle of teaching day in and day out, but we need to make time as teachers to engage students to remind them we are human too. These small reminders can build stronger classroom relationships and increase student engagement. You don't have to the "cool" teacher, you just have to be an interested teacher.
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