A recent article caught my attention a few weeks ago. “Confessions of a ‘Formerly Young’ Professor” grabbed my attention for two reasons. First, as a “formerly young” instructor myself, I was very curious as to what the author, Paige Reynolds, would confess. Secondly, I’ve been discussing culturally responsive teaching a great deal lately in preparation for and as a follow up to Erin Gruwell’s Lyceum lecture visit. I’ve heard about how hard it is to connect to students, especially if you are “formerly young,” so I hoped that Reynolds would provide some tips in this area.
Jay Howard, in his book Discussion in the College Classroom: Getting Your Students Engaged and Participating in Person and Online, introduced me to the term homophily – the student’s perception of how similar a faculty member is to him/her in terms of backgrounds, beliefs, attitudes, and values. As a “formerly young” instructor, I often taught students who were the same age as my daughter. Even though they often saw me as a parental figure, I could still relate to my students because my daughter kept me up-t0-date on the pop culture references. However, now that she is becoming “formerly young” as well, I fear that I am losing my last connection to the youth of today, and it will become increasingly harder to connect with my students.
However, it goes deeper than that for me. I know that students need to feel connected to someone on campus, and the more connected they feel, the more likely they are to persist. I’ve always been good at building relationships with my students. It might start as a simple connection, an affinity for the same TV show or movie, for example, but as we talk, I learn more and more about said student until we’ve built a relationship. These are the types of connections that keep students in classes and help them persist when times get tough for them, and it’s often easier than it sounds. I simply talk to my students, either before or after classes or in the hallway, about something that they appear to be interested in. And, even though I’m not great at small talk, it often works to establish the foundation for a relationship.
I do fear, though, that if I am no longer able to establish that first connection, or create the sense of homophily, how will I build the relationships that are vital to student success? I’m interested in hearing the techniques all of you “formerly young” employees use as well.