I had very few teachers who ever tried to connect with me as a student. Even when I struggled in the fourth grade and almost failed, my teacher did not try to figure out what was going on or try to help me in any way. I wonder what my year in fourth grade might have looked like if I had had a teacher who took an interest in me or tried to connect with me on some level. Maybe I wouldn’t have struggled so much or perhaps I would have been happier.
As teachers, it is our duty to help our students by any means necessary. Most of the time, this means connecting with students. We need to build safe and caring relationships with each and every one of our students. While we do try to focus on connecting with the difficult students in our classes, it’s important to form connections with every member of every class we teach. Yes, this is challenging and can be a daunting task; however, it’s a crucial step in educating our students. We need them to feel like they have at least one person in their life who cares for them.
A real easy way to be sure we’re connecting with all of our students regularly is to hold conferences with them. Since we in the sixth grade utilize the workshop model of literacy instruction, we have the opportunity to meet with each and every one of our students weekly under the guise of Reader’s Workshop. Yes, we do ask them questions about their reading, but that is after we ask them about everything else in their lives first. How’s life? How was your weekend? Did you do anything fun? What are you excited about this week? If we notice that a student seems to be a bit off or distant, we probe further. How are things going at home? What’s bothering you? What can I do to help? As we’re always checking-in with our students anyway, these conferences don’t generally elicit too much information that we didn’t already know. However, every once in awhile, these 1-on-1 conferences do help us to better understand and help our students. They are yet one more way we can connect to our students so that we can really get to know them over the course of the year in our class.
Today was our weekly Reader’s Workshop block in Humanities class, and so we conferenced with each of our students. It was great to connect with the boys in my reading group while my co-teacher met with the students in her group. While most conversations were short, some were longer on purpose. If I’m wondering about how a student is doing emotionally or academically, I might add in a few more questions to open a dialogue between the student and I. One student in my reading group has been struggling academically, as English is not his native language. We’ve been offering him much support over the past five weeks, and I wanted to see how he was progressing. So, I asked him some follow-up questions regarding his reading book to check on his comprehension. He was excited to tell me all about what was going on in his book, but also shared with me that he had trouble understanding American history concepts in English. Since his book was about westward expansion in America, I clarified and described what that period in our history was all about. This seemed to really help him understand his story better. If I did not have a chance to conference with my students weekly, I might have missed this opportunity to help this one student better comprehend the text he was reading. This lack of comprehension could have led to other areas of confusion and frustration that might have been manifested in different ways.
Being proactive and connecting with our students regularly, helps prevent issues from arising and allows our students to feel safe and supported. Genuine learning can only come about when students feel safe and cared for. Therefore, connecting with our students is one of our most important responsibilities as teachers. We can’t allow even just one student to slip through the cracks, because while I was lucky and did have a sixth grade teacher who formed a strong and positive relationship with me, some students have no one who connects with them, and this can lead to some very serious repercussions for them in the future.