Student teacher relationship: unlocking students’ potential

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.

Am I different? I am a post-grad student but also just a young person

I know a lot of you think that post-graduate students have it all figured out. They have everything under control. I used to think the same thing as well. But it is not the case. We do not have it all under control. I know for sure that I do not have it all figured out. My life is not as perfect as you would think. I don’t think anybody has a perfect life. I go through the motions of everyday life like any other 26-year-old guy. I would like to believe I grapple with all sorts of issues, problems, or challenges that other people my age have. These include issues with romance, economic independence, and so forth.  Today I am just going to share in passing my romance journey.

I have a grandmother who is in her late 70s. She is a typical grandmother with typical elderly comments every time I give a call or visit her. I last saw her recently during the Easter holidays and she asked me two questions that I did not know how to answer. The first was “where is your wife, or at least a lady friend”. The second was “and what about kids”.  These are the two most annoying questions, and I just cannot bring myself to tell her that romance-wise it is just not working out for me. I know if I say that she would probably say “it is because of the big books you are always reading and that computer you treasure so much”.

And that is the problem, romance is not working out for me. I do not think it is my fault though. I buy roses and chocolates, open the door for her, hold her hand in public and I always text “good morning/night”. I think of myself as modern gentleman, if there is such of course.  However, it seems there is always something I do wrong or just cannot get right. I am not sure if it’s the fact that I am 26-year-old man who sill watches WWE (World Wrestling Entertainment) or there is something else. But then come to think of it, no woman can stand a 26-year-old man who still watches WWE and gets sad when his favourite wrestler loses a match. I am not sporty and WWE bridges that gap for me, but it is just a lot for her to understand.

My point is, there is nothing “different” when you are an academic. The truth is we are all still human. I feel what others feel. I do what others do. Do I go partying? Yeah, I do.  I also like paintball shooting and quad bike riding, it is super nice. Most of the time I enjoy the company of those who are not academics. It is in this company that I get to take off my academic helmet and engage in debates about what really affects us and how can our societal problems be addressed.  Most importantly I get in touch with the truth. Those who are not guided by academic code of conducts but are yet still morally upright always remind me that at the end of the day, I belong to a community of different people with different hopes, dreams, and aspirations. It reminds me that there is more to life than sitting on my laptop the whole day and thinking about academic conferences, journal publications and critical theories. It keeps me in touch with the fact that not everything can be solved through academic research and approaches and not everything is taught and theorised. All these reminds me that, we are all human at the end of the day.