Sometimes, all the faces of my beloved students, and yes I will admit some more beloved than others, swim in front of my eyes. Each student is unique and the way we deal with them decides the nature of our relationship with them. All my students are different ; no two students are alike :the quiet ones , the patients ones , the cheeky ones, the daring ones , the overconfident , the shy ,  the loud ones ,those who wait for me to say a secret quiet word reserved only for them , the mommy’s dream ones, thorough gentlemen, the outspoken ones , the fidgety ones or the ones who think they are nobodies. Each student is a special world and we need to nurture them keeping their individual needs in mind.

There is no hard and fast rule to strengthening a relationship with a student and using it to improve the quality of their studies; also, in my opinion, it doesn’t require scientific evidences or learning new researches to know how to create a classroom full of happy trusting students. A teacher learns through experience how to connect to the many minds in a classroom and it is indeed like intuitively knowing which string to pluck in a guitar to create the perfect harmony in the overall music of the class. Yet if I collect my overall experiences, there are certain strategies that can be helpful for novices in this profession and even the veterans. Some are universal strategies; on the other hand, there are some few odd tricks.

#1.Unconditional love:
We need to understand that these children or young adults sitting in our classrooms are beautiful human beings and the foremost thing they need from us, before any subject competency or academic knowledge, is our love and understanding. If our students know we love them, they will perform better and will at least try to perform, knowing they are loved and wanted. Just saying” I love you” is not enough; our students are very perceptive; we have to really mean it and it should show through our body language, our facial expression, and our tone. It is an unspoken bond between a teacher and his/her students .Once , the kids know for sure they are loved , they will love us back in their own way and we have to accept their way of loving us back. We have to be grateful for each tiny receptive gesture. Then, slowly, a teacher can tune their love into positive energy and help students perform to their full potential. Results may not at times come quickly but the process starts.

#2.Use humor instead of scolding or sarcasm: respect their feelings.
I have mostly taught boys and a class full of energetic, naughty teenagers is, at times, a handful. It is crucial to create discipline but how should it be maintained, they respect authority but they respect a teacher more who respects them too. Giving respect means tactfully dealing with little issues that arise in class; at times, use humor to dissipate situations that can erupt to the level that can distract other students or can create discipline issues. Sarcasm is a big ‘NO’ when it comes to building strong relationships with students. Also, the tone of the voice when reprimanding a student is also vital. Students can tell when we are scolding them for their own good or just scolding to exert our authority. Instead, using humor to drive home a point is appreciated and well taken.

#3.Save a special word for each.
There are different individuals sitting in our classes. The extroverts always get our attention; it is the introverts who need a special something to bond with or the under achievers in our classrooms who like to be in shadows lest they are asked something. At times, that special magic ingredient is nothing but a simple word reserved specially for a student during the round in our classes: A simple, “Wow, your work is extra neat today,” while glancing at the notebook or a more personal remark like, “Your new glasses really suits you ,” does the trick. It drives home the message that we notice them and notice details about them; they are not invisible in the class as they perceive to be. What we receive back is a winning smile and the student is ours. We can further use this beginning of a positive bonding by slowly giving more specific feedback in our special word uttered to that student. For example, while taking a round when they are working on an assignment, a simple remark like, “I am so glad you remembered the new word we had learnt yesterday and tried using it today. You made my day!” will make that student improve the quality of his work. This little feedback for students who don’t like their work being discussed loudly in class works like magic.

Similarly, later such comments can be written in notebooks with suggestions to better use a certain word or on how to improve the quality of work otherwise. The students would not only welcome them but it would also help to boost their confidence in life. Eventually, we would not have to whisper words especially for them as there would be direct eye contact from those pupils and soon they would be raising their hands in class discussions knowing they are really precious for us. Our whole classroom will bloom and improve.

#4.Be empathetic; get to know their fears.
Being a language teacher can be a great blessing at times. We get to know our learners better and reach out to them in a way that, I believe, gives us an advantage over other subject teachers. Whenever my students write a piece of creative writing like a poem, they reveal a part of themselves; poetry is such. I get to know their dreams and passions and channelize their passion to make them take the right direction. It’s a heavy responsibility, I admit, but that’s what make me a teacher and indirectly their mentor. When they write other pieces of writing like a personal essay, in a way they blurt out their fears or their inner selves and it gives me a window to their souls. But, for that, a teacher has to be sensitive & wise enough to generate such topics in class which will not hurt the students’ sentiments; yet they will be willing to write their true feelings or give a glimpse of their world. Then it can be used to cultivate powerful relations with the students based on empathy. Lately, I asked my ninth graders to write a short autobiography with certain directions. I still vividly recall a student’s writing who is really good at writing but often used to like to stay detached or non-serious in the classroom. He handed me his note book during the classroom; I was happy that he was interested in the topic and did it quickly and wanted me to read. When I sat next to him and started reading his essay, I could hardly control my emotions. He had written, “I am XYZ and I am a useless fellow who isn’t good at anything. No one likes me as I fail to meet everyone’s expectations. I am unable to perform because I am lazy and not good at anything……”.The lurch in my heart was unbearable while I was reading it. It was a make or break moment for me. I asked him if he wanted me to check his essay then as he was closely watching my expressions. I just opened the notebook and started reading, “I am XYZ and I am a unique individual who is brilliant at many things; yet, I am misunderstood by all. I like to work when I am motivated enough; I don’t like mediocre things, I am immensely talented and can achieve brilliance if I put my mind to it…” I handed him his notebook and asked if I had read correctly. He nodded and said he would give me the essay the next day after adding the final touches .It was one of the most touching moments of my career indeed. After a day or two, there was this essay competition and the students had to mail me the essays. His essay was the best and the note he had sent along read, ‘I have spent hours choosing my vocabulary words.’ This is what empathy can do: create miracles.

In short, we can try anything that works to build powerful relationships with our students and the gist of the matter is to care and convert our caring into positive influences .Strengthening relationship with our students is vital to make them grow into creative & critical individuals, and it is up to us to nurture them in the right direction by building powerful nests of love and trust for each.

Written by Sabeen Masaud

Beaconhouse, Islamabad