When I started teaching, I was 24 years old. I was young and inexperienced when I moved to Spain to start my teaching career. Many of my students in their junior and senior years of high school thought of me as their friend or sister. They didn’t understand how I could be their teacher. It wasn’t because they didn’t respect me – I was a teacher from Canada whom they wanted to get to know better. Even though I was younger than most of my colleagues, I knew that my age and my background would work in my favor when it came to building a rapport with my students.
Since then, I’ve gained a better understanding of how essential it is for teachers to relate to students and understand them at their level, so they can create an environment in which their students are excited to be in. When it comes to building great teacher-student relationships, here’s what I learned:
Share your experiences
Being a Canadian on Spanish terrain, my students thought Canada was fascinating, and they wanted to hear everything about me and my traditions. They were curious about our Thanksgiving celebrations and how it compared to the United States, and I shared with them our Easter and Christmas celebrations, which was different from theirs. Telling them stories about my high school and university experience was also enlightening to them, especially my older students who were applying for post-secondary education and/or were figuring out what to do with their lives. This helped ease their concerns, as I could lend them a helping hand or a listening ear when needed. Sharing my stories and experiences with them allowed them to understand me better and gave them a framework of what’s to come during our time together in the classroom. Additionally, I was able to connect my personal stories to concepts we were learning that they might have been having trouble with.
Take interest in their interests
My students were always eager to talk about their childhood in Spain and learn about mine in England and Canada. This helped them open up and talk about their interests. I remember one of my students in Grade 4 had trouble with addition and subtraction. I tried to teach it to him the traditional way with a class lesson and worksheets, but he still needed help. After talking to him more, I found out he loved basketball and was a visual learner. One day in my class, I taught the concept using mini basketballs, drawing them on the blackboard, and printing out worksheets with basketballs to add and subtract. His love of basketball allowed him to understand basic math operations and also deepened our relationship with a shared common interest. The smallest detail a student can say about their favorite musician, actor, movie, etc. provides an opening to having a great conversation and allows you to show genuine interest in them.
I’m a firm believer in having fun in my classes. I had one teacher in the past who always started our classes with a joke. We loved it, because not only did it ease our way into a difficult physics lesson, but it also put us at ease when we needed to approach him for help. This is something I knew I wanted to carry forward in my own classes. Having a sense of humor is key in the classroom, because it lightens the mood and makes the class enjoyable. There’s no reason that fun and learning can’t coexist exclusively.
Spend 1:1 time with your students
Some teachers might veer away from seeing students individually, because they or their student might feel uncomfortable. For me, spending one-on-one time with students allows me to be available to them, especially for those who are shy and might not feel heard in class or those who have behavioral issues. This gives them the opportunity to speak freely to me about any concerns they might have. It also allows us to have a deeper connection to talk about topics outside of school.
As you can see, connecting with students through stories and experiences is important. As you share your struggles during school and stories of how you persevered, you will give your students someone to relate to and look up to. Showing students you care about their extracurricular activities or interests also deepens your teacher-student relationship, which is paramount to fulfilling their happiness and fostering academic success. Even more so, you’ll notice attitude and behavioral issues disappear and students will want to work harder in order to succeed.