Actually Getting to Know My Students

A few things happened this week that prompted a lot of thought about my relationships with my students. All of these things happened outside of my normal class interactions.

For starters, one of my students asked if he could come see me after class one day. It was one of those “shut the door” kinds of conversations, but here’s the basic point. He told me that he had transferred this semester from a much larger university where he didn’t feel his professors paid any attention to him. He told me about taking a class with several hundred other students, how he had introduced himself to his professor several times, and how the professor never remembered his name. My student was also disappointed that when he asked for help, the prof simply pushed him off to the course’s graduate assistant (who didn’t provide much help, either).

Upon transferring to WT, though, my student said he actually had to adjust to the amount of one-on-one attention I and my colleagues are able to offer our students in the communication program here. He simply wanted to tell me that he was initially surprised by it but had come to really appreciate it. And yes, I do know his name.

I ran into another student while walking across campus this week, and a quick “hey, what’s up?” moment turned into an extended conversation about whether he was doing the right thing by staying in school. I’ve known this student for a few semesters now, and I don’t believe this conversation would have happened if we hadn’t built a rapport. I’m glad he felt comfortable enough with me to talk about it, and in turn, he expected me to tell him exactly what I think.

One of the highlights of my week — when I’m able to make it — is a “coffee hour” that I set up last semester just for the opportunity to chat with students outside of class. Five of my students made it to this week’s gathering, during which I rather unexpectedly shared some stories from my early years in journalism and how they impacted my career choices and professional attitudes. I really enjoy these chats because I get to interact with my students in a more personal way, and they get to know a little bit more about what makes me tick. My personal philosophy is that these kinds of interactions enhance my work with them in the classroom, too.

The week ended with another coffee chat with a student who recently returned from an overseas school trip. I had promised a cup of coffee in exchange for her stories. It was so much fun simply listening to her experiences and talking about how international travel really does change one’s perspectives on things.

I have a strong belief that as professors, it’s important that we have a genuine interest in our students as individuals. We should pay attention to them. We should care enough about them to be willing to set high standards for them, pull them aside when they don’t achieve them, and praise them profusely when they do.

Perhaps most importantly, we should be willing to spend time with them. Sometimes, that’s when the really important stuff gets learned — for all of us.

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