NASA.gov – Remembering Challenger
This week the United States quietly remembered the loss of the Challenger space shuttle, and its crew. I never realized as a third grader, watching the shuttle explosion, the effect a simple teacher could have on me and my life.
But 30 years after the shuttle explosion, I have come to realize how much of an impact teachers and teaching can have on a learner, including myself.
Before Christa McAuliffe, whom was on the space shuttle crew as the first teacher in space, left on the shuttle mission she said two statements I’ve thought of often as an educator:
“I touch the future…..I teach” and “I think the reason I went into teaching was because I wanted to make an impact on other people….” (p. 72) As a life-long educator, beginning in public schools and now training new teachers, I entered teaching for the same reason as Christa….to make an impact on future lives.
I have learned much over the years about learning theories, methods, and processes, all of which are important in learning and education. But often, some of the simple means of touching the future of our students are forgotten when focusing on other ideas.
One of the most important ways of touching future lives of our students that may seem more difficult to remember in higher education, is building a relationship with our students, including getting to know them as individual learners.
Some basic steps I’ve found for building a relationship with students in higher education includes:
- Learning each student’s name
- Finding out more about the students by connecting with them before and after class and encouraging their input during class discussions
- Smiling at students (really simple—but makes a huge difference)
These steps seem simplistic, yet I’m reminded daily of their importance. Some class settings in higher education may appear to be more effective for building relationships than others, so while writing this blog entry, I decided to ponder the different higher education settings I’ve been a part of as a student, and what my instructor or professor did in those settings that made the difference (especially compared to other settings where the instructor’s actions had an opposite affect). Here were some ideas I recalled:
–I remember the science professor who, although she taught a class of more than 80, had was easy to talk to and had a pleasant personality. She encouraged students to ask questions in an auditorium type classroom, making sure she took volunteers to speak from all over the auditorium, and made herself available to answer student questions in and outside of class. Compared to another science professor who did not respond to questions in person or even via e-mail, was rarely available, and did not encourage questions in class, the first professor definitely impacted my learning in her class, teaching, and future in a positive way.
–I remember the physiology teacher who recognized that, although many in her class were going into medicine, many of the rest of us were not. She set up her class so all the students could succeed. Although the class was in a large auditorium setting she provided many opportunities for hands on learning (bringing in models of the brain—and even a real brain for us to learn from). She broke us up into groups often and utilized active learning techniques throughout the class. She even provided an optional second final which used skills beyond memorization of body parts and functions so all of us could find ways to succeed.
–I recall the statistics professor who recognized that, although we all could gain understanding of statistics, we were not all going to be great statisticians like herself. She focused as much on understanding as she did on skill, and allowed for group learning and teaching, which benefitted all learners in her class. Compared to a high school math teacher I had who purposefully put all of the slower math learners in the front row, refused to allow students to work together, and showed us one example each day and then told us to read the chapter if we had questions (instead of asking him), the statistics professor was a much more effective instructor whose teaching had a positive impact on the learners in her class.
Building a relationship with students begins with the basics I listed, but involves so much more. Embracing students as individual learners, being a reflective instructor, listening to students, and finding flexible ways to assist all members of a classroom to understand the content, assists in building relationships with students.
We all touch the future in our classrooms and impact lives, whether our impact is effectual and purposeful is determined via the relationships we build with the learners in our classrooms. Hopefully remembering simple ideas to help make a positive impact can improve the future for those we teach, as well as for ourselves.
What educators in higher education have impacted your teaching? Please comment with ideas from your reflections of how to build relationships with students and what teaching techniques have impacted your life.
–Mary Pearson, Department of Elementary, Literacy, and Special Education
Hohler, R. (1986). “I Touch the Future….” The Story of Christa McAuliffe. Random House: New York.