Connecting with Students

photo credit: via Baubauhaus

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Making an effort to bond with your student pays in dividends. It makes your job fun and easier because students who feel connected to you not only pay attention to your lessons, but enjoy them more.

Just think of how much more of an impact your classes would have if inside and outside the classroom you worked to cultivate relationships with your students. This is something that I think a lot of the sempai ALTs know very well. Here are the 3 tricks I’ve found. So if you’re a new ALT or you’re looking for some new ideas, why not try out some these for yourself or post your strategies in the comments below?

  1. Always say “Hello” to students and maybe even wave when you pass them in the hallway. I’ve found that a big and friendly greeting will be mirrored by students over time. Are you tired of saying “Hello” all the time? Try a different language: bonjour! Ni how ma! Konichiwa! Kalimara! are fun to throw into the mix and can help start a conversation (i.e. “Can you speak *fill in foreign language here*). Slang greetings are also brilliant (“What’s up?”) — especially if you can get individual students to share the original greeting with you. They all know “Hello, how are you?” So you can make more connections by establishing unique greetings with different groups of students.
  2. Help out with lunch clean-up. If your school is like mine, then after lunch large groups from each class will carry their lunch supplies back to the cafeteria. I found that this is a good opportunity for face time with the students. I like to stand at the entrance where all the lunch groups are streaming in. I can help out by checking the various boxes and trays of dishes, and make small talk with the students as they pass. Also I have something of a captive audience with those students that are helping out around me, so I really make an effort to talk with them, either to make them laugh, teach them something new or make up a handshake (which by the way is another fun idea).
  3. Attending end-of-the-day class meetings (i.e. owarinokai) — this is a trick I discovered on a visit to other schools. When it comes to making connections, face time is key. So if you can attend these meetings with different classes (on a rotating basis) you can not only feel more involved but the students will notice that you are taking an interest in them beyond the scope of what they have probably seen before. Plus, these meetings are fascinating. You can get a chance to see your students in a completely different light. And if you feel like giving a speech or some words of  encouragement to the students about studying, I find that the teachers will make time for me. Start by asking the teachers you are close with. If you like the experience, you can gradually expand your attendence to include all the classes.

Conclusion

Connecting with the students may seem hard at first. In fact, it is something I still struggle with. Sometimes I give the most cheerful greeting in the world to a student and get nothing but the cold shoulder. But that is natural. Building relationships takes time. In a school of 30 students it’s hard enough to build these relationships — let alone a school with 500, 600, or 700 students. I’d like to continue this subject in a later post because I’ve discovered it is a key part of our jobs here. For now, however, I’ ll leave you with these 3 ideas. If you’ve discovered a great trick for connecting with students, please explain it in the comments section below.

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