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Striking The Right Chord

Wednesday, December 19, 2018

Writer, educator and moderator Kartik Bajoria writes on the importance of building a teacher-student rapport

We live in an age where attention spans of students are greatly reduced. Add to this the fact that in most scenarios, students view teachers more as just authoritative figures, less perhaps as guides & mentors; knowledge gained in the classroom isn’t really reaching its full potential. We would all do well to increase teacher-student rapport in order for meaningful growth and development in our kids. However, there is one basic observation I have made over several years of teaching that I feel is paramount when it comes to building a meaningful relationship between a teacher and student. That is, ‘speaking the same language’. Allow me to explain.

Of Different Worlds
It may not sound nice to hear, like most ugly truths; the fact of the matter is that in India, the teaching profession is less want-based, and more need-based. Most teachers, especially at school-level, are ‘supplementary-income’ generators of their respective families. This leads to two brutal realities. First, and with utmost respect for the teaching community (of which I am myself a part), teachers aren’t what they used to be. The sheer commitment, the passion, the palpable excitement and enthusiasm that teachers had when our parents were at school, is arguably missing. The second ground-reality is that often times, especially in ‘good schools’ in urban centres, teachers and the students they are teaching, belong to completely different, disparate worlds. The result of this is that teachers are not in sync with the aspirations, motivations, interests, and cultural-context of students. THIS HAS to be remedied.

Get With It
As a community of teachers, we must therefore strive to familiarize ourselves with the world that our students inhabit. Some time back, I had a student in one of my Personality Development Workshops. Despite being clearly streets ahead of her batch in terms of aptitude & exposure, there was absolutely NO engagement from her. I tried everything that I could think of to get her to participate, with no results. Then one day, I noticed the watch she was wearing. It was a ‘blingy’ number from a rather popular brand. I complimented her watch, and as if a switch had been turned on, she opened up and became one of the most eager students in the batch! From complete disengagement, to absolute participation, all because of a superficial compliment! As trite as that might sound, it did the trick. And it worked ONLY because I was able to demonstrate to her, that I belonged to, knew, and inhabited her world. The results were obvious to me, and ever since, I make it a point to keep abreast of the interests and influences of each grade that I teach. It really is the most effective way of creating a lasting bond between student and teacher.

Breaking The Ice
Once a teacher is familiar with the world that students exist in, there are any number of activities that can be organized to create a healthy, trusting, mutually beneficial relationship between educator and ward.

1    Content with Common Cultural Context:
I employ this method all the time with my students. I usually search for Short Films on one or the other online streaming platforms. These Short Films, even though they have hidden messages that sensitize viewers to a number of issues (being a good Samaritan, gender-equality etc), are packaged in a manner, and using a cultural grammar that students find fun and engaging. For instance, a film I often screen called ‘Vicky’ espouses freedom but does it through the engaging story of a beautiful pet dog. It always engages children and delivers a powerful message through an entertaining, non-preachy way. Showing the film also establishes a deep bond between my students and I. Searching for, and sharing content like this with students is a great way to build a meaningful relationship.

2    Games:
Kids are big on games. The moment you play even basic games such as Charades or Pictionary with them, it lightens the atmosphere and draws them in. Learners’ perception of their teacher as an authoritarian figure begins to soften and they see their teacher able to be a fun, ‘normal’ person who can take a joke, and laugh with them, play with them. Games such as these, alongside deepening a bond, serve as great tools to enhance various skills in students, ranging from lateral thinking, to creative expression, vocabulary and so on.

3    Outings:
The concept of the ‘field trip’ is not new. Having said that, I find that not all the places that are visited on these excursions are engaging for students. If teachers can find a way of making smaller groups of kids, and designing tailor-made field trips for them that are more in sync with the limited groups’ interest areas, these are visits that can deeply enhance the bond between student and teacher. Kids are like any of us adults. Each one wants to feel special. Naturally then if one takes an entire section made up of over 30 students to the same destination, there is bound to be a lack of engagement. If however, smaller groups of 5 or 6 students are taken to different places; say one that is keen on history taken to an Old Railroad, a group that is keen on Sports taken to a Stadium – the connection that will be established between student and teacher will be much more substantive.

Ultimately though, I do believe strongly that a relationship between a student and a mentor is an infinite, perennial pursuit. It isn’t something that can be done, or undone through a few games or interactions. It is constant. And needs constant work, updating. That constancy and consistency can only come about if educators make the effort of educating themselves in the ways of their students’ lives.

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