A bevy of research establishes that student-faculty relationships are important on a number of fronts. For example, they predict persistence and completion in college. They impact the amount of effort students make in courses. They affect the development of students’ academic self-concepts. The authors of this analysis write: “There is evidence in the literature to suggest that the way students feel about their relationship to the professor may play an even larger role than many faculty know, or—perhaps—care to admit.” (p. 41)
Today’s college instructors are expected not only to be engaging in their classes, but to engage students outside the classroom. Whether it’s supervising service-learning, taking students to professional conferences, leading study sessions in coffee houses, or inviting students into our homes, faculty are now expected to be with students in ways that change the kinds of relationships teachers and students have in the classroom. Teachers now interact with their students in a variety of contexts, many of them informal and some of them purely social. These new roles blur the line between being friendly toward students and being a friend of students. This matters whether you’ve been teaching for a while and no longer look like a student or whether your academic career is just starting. All faculty need to know how to build supportive and positive, but businesslike, relationships with students.
Most teachers know that caring for students is important, but do they realize just how important? A recent article by Steven A. Meyers offers a succinct, well-referenced, and persuasive review of research that addresses the topic. It begins with what most teachers already know: Caring is regularly identified as one of the ingredients or components of effective instruction. What many teachers do not know is that students value the dimensions of caring more highly than teachers do.
As an undergrad, I put myself through school waiting tables – a truly humbling experience that made me a better instructor. With a mission of 100% customer satisfaction and my livelihood on the line, the patron’s experience became my highest priority.
Taking that mindset into the classroom, I strove for 100% student satisfaction – within the confines of academic integrity, of course – and achieved great results. It turns out, oddly enough, that students love being important, valued, respected, and honored. And through the resulting faculty-student connection, students willingly transform into vessels of learning.
Campus security is not normally an issue that is discussed in conjunction with faculty members. Typically, campus safety is relegated to the purview of administrators and campus police. Few professors receive substantial training on ways to enhance campus safety through what occurs in their classrooms. This view needs to change in order to respond to current realities and to incorporate the recommendations of the latest research on campus safety.
Last week I participated in a beginning of the academic year event for faculty. It included a panel of bright, articulate upper-division students. From the audience came this question: “What are the things faculty do that you really hate?”