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Teach English in HuanghuA Zhen - Yichng Shi
Especially for an inexperienced teacher, connecting with students may be a source of concern or anxiety. After all, establishing rapport in any setting, personal or professional, is foundational to building productive relationships. Conversely, a lack of rapport can lead to miscommunications, distrust, and a lack of motivation, outcomes which are detrimental and difficult to overcome for teachers and students alike. The question of how to build necessary rapport is further complicated by the varied types of learners with whom teachers interact, particularly for teachers who may be responsible for instructing children, young adults, and business professionals alike. Fortunately, the answer can be sought out, regardless of the type learner, through the lens of professionalism and understanding. While specific tactics may differ by group, teachers build rapport with their students by creating a positive learning environment and seeking to understand the needs and interests of their learners. A. Create a positive learning environment Throughout the ITTT-TEFL course, much attention was paid to the idea of an appropriate learning environment. In the most literal sense, the physical environment should be considered: comfortable seating and sufficient working space, necessary teaching equipment (e.g., white boards, display monitors, CD players), and even ensuring that décor is such that a student feels able to relax and welcome the learning experience. As ITTT notes, these concerns are not unique to one age group or type of learner: “A cold, grey, institutional-type environment can have a very negative effect on motivation. Most of these comments are true for adults, too!” A positive learning environment, however, is dependent not only on physical accommodations, but even more so on the attitude and efforts of the teacher. Students need to feel that a teacher is engaged, invested in their learning, and sufficiently skilled at their profession to impart useful knowledge; furthermore, they need to feel encouraged and that they are making progress as learners. Thoughtful consideration of these factors can therefore foster positive rapport with students. Naturally, these may vary by type of learner. Young children may benefit from colorful and stimulating classroom settings, availability of appropriate toys and games that encourage learning, and a supportive and fun energy from their teacher to captivate their attention. Young adults may appreciate a non-standard classroom layout to help them mentally separate language learning from their daily school studies; they may similarly appreciate a teacher who allows them to make mistakes and positively encourages their participation and achievements, or bases lessons around subjects of interest rather than rigid curricula. Busy professionals may want a comfortable space free from the pressures of their daily work, but also an efficient, well-planned method of instruction that avoids wasting the free time they are sacrificing for their studies. In any case, thoughtful attention on the part of the teacher in creating an appropriate environment is an important step in building a positive relationship between teacher and student. B. Understand the needs and interests of the students This is in many ways one and the same as the need to create a positive learning environment as described above. That said, consideration here extends beyond the classroom setting and the energy of the teacher. Most simply put, understanding the needs and interests of students requires a teacher to take interest in their students. While working through the ITTT-TEFL course, I started providing individual conversation lessons online, predominately to business professionals and graduate students preparing for their careers. I have made a practice of asking my students the following: • Their own English study goals and objectives; • How and when they are required to use English in their professional (or academic) daily lives; • What their personal interests and hobbies are, even if their English study is primarily professionally motivated; • What style of feedback they feel would be most appropriate for them during our lessons, with examples of various approaches I am able to take in providing feedback and instruction; • At the end of a lesson, I take the time to request any feedback they may have about what I can improve or how they would like me to shift our focus in future lessons. I keep notes on their answers and reference them prior to beginning subsequent lessons. When I have asked for feedback at the end of my lessons, one of the most frequent responses I receive is that my students appreciate that I take the time to solicit their feedback. This alone makes it clear to me that taking interest in one’s students, along with the sincere desire to understand their needs, is critical to building a positive, productive relationship with them. The pre-interview I describe above is tailored to adult learners with a professional interest in the English language, but the underlying approach is universal: continually ask questions and sincerely listen. Dependent on the learner (e.g., young children), that may not mean only observing and engaging with the student, but also talking to parents and fellow instructors. All of this was motivated largely by the emphasis that this TEFL course instilled in me to focus on listening to students above all else. I was especially inspired at the beginning of the lesson on classroom management: “… the teacher must be flexible and change his/her role according to the activity and situation without being dominant or leaving the students uncertain.” When that lesson’s introduction stated that individuals need not be extroverts to be successful educators, I focused on how I could take my qualities as an introvert, namely being a capable and willing listener, and use those to the benefit of my students. It is my hope that the above strategies, in addition to the many other lessons I have taken from the ITTT TEFL course, will allow me to build successful rapport with my students and contribute to their future success.  ITTT TEFL, Unit 19, p. 6.  ITTT TEFL, Unit 5, p. 1.