This week, as I’m doing mid-semester conferences with my students and doing my administrative duties, I’m once again realizing the importance of being earnest. By this, I mean being genuine, sincere, and honest in our conversations with our students.
Students are smart. They can tell when a teacher is being less than genuine – even if they seem checked out. When we make a mistake, we should apologize. When we don’t know something, we should say, “You know what? I don’t know the answer to that.” When we’re confused, we should say, “Let’s work on clarifying this together.” We should not talk for the sake of talking or for the sake of upholding authority.
Today, our students don’t “revere” the teacher the way students might have done many decades ago – or even 10 years ago when I was in college. They’re looking for mutual respect and an engaging learning experience. They don’t have illusions about their professor being some kind of an almighty. Being human – without necessarily becoming buddies with them (we don’t want to do that, I don’t think) – opens space for a meaningful teacher-student relationship, which creates a positive learning environment. They need a relationship of trust to learn.
Last week, I had a conference with one of my students. I said, “I don’t know you very well, but from class discussions it seems like you are the kind of person who calls it like it is.” She laughed and said, “Yeah. I think so.” I could tell that she’s proud of being this way. Then I related this to her writing: “I think this is why sometimes your writing comes across as less than polished. You write kind of… raw.” She laughed again, and she said, “You mean, like blunt? Yeah. I think I know exactly what you mean.” We discussed the importance of editing and using accurate and appropriate word choice. I believe she walked away from the conference feeling that I “got” her. I felt like we had a very earnest conversation.
At the end of the day, this is all we all want. We want to know that we were “got” by others, that others understood us, don’t we?