Today I held midterm conferences with a few of my students who are struggling with the class. Honestly, I wish the schedule allowed me to do conferences with all my students. It is really the only time I get one-on-one with them and get to know them more personally, something I’ve found that students from “relationship-oriented” cultures need.
Two students are just a little low in their grades and are very likely to make a good turnaround. The other two I’m more concerned about.
I always start the conferences asking the students how things are going and what has prevented them from performing well in the class. These are international students, so I know cultural acclimation is likely an issue. In the cases today, there are additional extenuating circumstances that have been interfering with their ability to keep up with their coursework.
Compassionate problem solving typically gives these students hope. I directed both students to additional resources on campus to help them deal with the extenuating circumstances, though it is on them to follow through, and gave them a second chance on one of the bigger assignments they hadn’t yet completed.
It is in sympathizing with their situation that creates a connection. It is such a small, small thing, yet it has such a big, big impact on the relationship. I didn’t scold; I empathized and gave grace. They won’t soon forget that.
I don’t know how the rest of the semester will unfold, if these two will be able to follow through and overcome their challenges, but I do know that I have done my part to encourage them. That is the challenge I face every semester. I have to be careful I am not more invested in their success than they are because that’s when I get frustrated and disappointed.
Sometimes I think students see teachers in an adversarial role and forget that we are committed to their learning and academic success. In fact, I told one of the students point blank that I wanted him to pass the class. I have seen this with all demographics I’ve taught, from elementary students through mid-career professionals. Explicitly reminding them that we are on the same team usually resets attitudes and reenergizes the students.
It is not only students who forget that we are on the same team. When interpersonal conflicts arise, all of us can lose sight of the importance of the relationship over the need to be “right” in the moment.
In which situations do you need to step back and reaffirm a relationship?