On Subversion, or Students are People, too

I do not consider myself a very subversive person, but I have recently discovered one aspect of my teaching could be very subversive indeed, judging by conversations that I have had recently with colleagues from various departments. And, although this subversion is relatively easy with 25 students, it is one that I will have to forsake as the number of students I teach per semester rises.

What is this act of so-called subversion? I hold one-on-one meetings (15 minutes, tops) with my students at the beginning of the semester. In our discussions, the class barely comes up. Mostly we talk about what they like to study, what their favorite activities are, even their hopes and dreams. I jot down a couple of notes and ask them what their expectations are for the semester, but my primary interest is the individual.

Research supports the creation of unique student-teacher relationships. The American Psychological Association advocates that positive student-teacher relationships (based partly on teachers’ knowledge of students’ backgrounds, interests, emotional strengths and academic preparation) can help students attain higher academic achievement in the K-12 levels.

Though I only have anecdotal research to support this method at the university level, I have found that having these one-on-one meetings builds a stronger community within my language-learning classroom. It’s kind of cult-like, but if students feel that they have a connection to me, then the class as a whole is able to build a supportive community of learners. Thus, students are much more willing to participate in class, and in general, they rely on each other to clarify questions regarding homework and test preparation.

In addition to a better community, these meetings allow me the opportunity to focus more on the rewarding aspects of teaching and less on the frustrations of grading. Class time is fun, but evaluating student performance (perhaps the more important part of the job) is the bane of my existence. Too much focus on grading makes teaching a chore, and when teaching is a chore, everyone suffers. Since teaching is always going to be a part of my job, then I must find a way to make it more enjoyable for all involved. For me, that means refusing to treat my students as anything other than the individuals they are. So, I set up my meetings with them, in an attempt to develop some semblance of rapport.

What aspects of your teaching would you consider to be subversive?

[image courtesy of The Baltimore Sun]

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