There is something distressing about having a student who is simply not interested.  To see a student sit poker-faced or wearing that defiant, make-me-care-I-dare-you expression in my class goes against everything I feel about teaching English.  I don’t care if my students don’t particularly love my course (although I would prefer if they did!) – I want my students to engage.  English is a course that, if taught correctly, should reach out and touch our humanity and desire for meaning.  It should be a place to explore and create.  So when I have a student seemingly indifferent about what they’re learning, it causes some personal and professional distress.

Well, I have discovered the first crucial step towards engaging the disengaged.  I have discovered the solution.  And now, I will make it known to you…(but lean closer, because it’s a secret) – the answer is…

relationship.

Well duh.  There are only about a million resources out there affirming the importance professional student-teacher relationships have on learning.  Bruce Beairsto in his article “Engagement in Learning: Finding the Depth Beyond Diligence” accurately writes, “[Engagement] is only achieved when there is a partnership with the student…so that learning is co-constructed.”  As a teacher, I known this to be true.  It is because relationship is so ordinary and widely known that I seem to sometimes forget about it.  I’ll have a student who is struggling or giving me the blank-stare-of-death treatment so I’ll try a hundred different pedagogical strategies in an effort to valiantly win him or her over to the side of education.  Only to see the blank-stare-death become the frustrated-blank-stare-of-death.

A couple of weeks ago a student came into my class who really dislikes English.  I know this because it’s one of the first things he said when he walked through the door.  And he wasn’t joking.  No matter what I said or how I modified the assignments to correspond to his particular learning style, he simply wasn’t buying in.  So early this week I decided to talk to him and (literally) within ten minutes he was passionately talking about an issue, had found an article to back up his arguments, and offered to write a summary about it!  Over the course of several more conversations with this student I discovered a number of key frustrations he has with English and a whole host of unspoken issues he is subconsciously bringing into my course.  As a result of these conversations, I realized that I need to fundamentally change the way I teach him if he is to be successful in my course.  Although he still dislikes English and struggles to see the relevance of what he’s doing, he is slowly beginning to engage because of our talks.

Relationship is a key step towards engagement.  New strategies and philosophies for learning and teaching will emerge, but relationship is constant.

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