Regularly I get asked the same question, “How do you build rapport with your students?” The answer is multi-faceted and, obviously, is different for every kid:
- I talk to them, not at them.
- I engage them in conversations about what they like (gaming, movies, fashion, songs, books, TV shows)
- I don’t take myself too seriously. We all laugh at some of the crazy things I say and do.
- I don’t take them too seriously. Most of their anger, disrespect, frustration, confusion isn’t directed at me personally and so I go out of my way to make sure I don’t personalize it.
- I insert as much of them into my lessons as I can, making efforts to connect with what I know they know about life.
- I get to know their families as much as possible (or as is healthy).
- I let them ask me questions. About anything. I’ve been amazed at the transparency they have as well as their complete lack of inappropriateness. They are curious about everything and appreciate my honesty. Especially when I look them in the eye and say, “Truthfully, I have no idea.”
But really, one of the most effective ways I built rapport has nothing to do with actually interacting with my students.
I send them cards.
Yep. I buy a bunch of stamps and blank greeting cards that have fun artwork on them and I write notes to all of my students 2-3 times a year: Winter Break, Spring Break, and Summer Break.
They love it. Not everyone has said so, but it has made a difference. The first few years I did at my current school, I only sent them to specific students but word got around and other kids would just give me their address.
They know it’s not something I have to do, just like I don’t have to tutor after school past 3:00PM. They know I pay for it out of my own pocket, just like the snacks I provide during tutoring. When school is back in session, I get a lot of ‘thank you for the card, Miss’ but not everyone does. And that’s OK.
I know that they know I care. Cards are just one way that it becomes tangible.
My first year, one senior told me he posted my card on his bulletin board. He’d never received mail before. Four years later, I have a few students who make an effort to write me back (I always use the schools information as return address, you should, too). It’s delightful!
Bottom line is this: it’s the little things that count. Whether you send cards, or tutor, or provide snacks, or converse with them, or anything — be sincere. They will know when you are and appreciate and respect you all the more.