Student teacher relationship: unlocking students’ potential

We often think of ourselves through a binary lens. We think of ourselves as a group on the other side of the fence to another discrete group. Unaware, we create imaginary fences to separate ourselves as students from ‘them’ as teachers or lecturers. In that way, we are convinced that we are out of each other’s way. We go to university, to the lecture halls, to do what is expected of us-to learn, and we hope that ‘they’ will also come to do what is expected of them-to teach.  We think teaching and learning can be done with such crudeness and greatness would still be achieved. We do not understand that the processes of teaching and learning requires warmth, friendliness, compassion, and trust from both the teacher and the leaner. It requires a multi-faceted relationship.

I think it all stems from how, and often where, we were raised. Because of the “too much” homework my teacher used to give me, and my mother’s inability to help me complete these tasks, I grew up thinking of education as important (as my mother would reiterate), but thought of the teacher as an ‘enemy’. This is the attitude I took to university and I saw many of my friends with the same attitude. This made it impossible for lecturers to build multi-faceted relationships with us students, something which would have eased process of harnessing our intellectual potential.

To my surprise during my years as a Masters student I often marvelled at the support, and attention my supervisor gave me. I thought it was because I was just a good student, but I see now that it went beyond that. He created a warm and friendly environment for me to access him and to talk about my social issues. This had a positive influence on the quality of chapters I produced and ultimately the quality of my Masters dissertation.

Today I am a lecturer and I want to do things differently. Unfortunately, I am unable to relate to my students at a social level during lockdown. I do not know them. I have never met them physically and that is sad and problematic. I meet them online via Blackboard and Moodley. While these platforms allow me to facilitate my classes and give lectures from the comfort of my home or while on the bus traveling home to visit the family, they have hindered the possibilities of me relating with my students at an intimate level.  

And now because of the rising numbers of COVID-19 infections, and increasing lockdown regulations, I worry even more. I know it is stressful for students to do everything online, especially because they are first years. They need special attention. My special attention. These needs are reflected in the assessment they submit. I can pick up a lack of reading, the need for student/teacher special attention, or even tutorials. It is hard navigating through these issues because of the distance between us: not just physical distance but social distance as well-the lack of intimacy amongst us.

My own experiences have proved that teaching and learning is a social process, it requires a social approach. The warmth of the teacher towards the students paves a way for mutual respect, which in turn can have a positive influence on the performance of students and their overall achievements through their university days. When my classes are “cold”, my student under perform. I can’t wait for a new normal that will allow me to go to a lecture theatre and meet them. I hope by then it will not be too late.

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