Student conferences

How is it nearly Friday already? Just a few days ago — it feels like yesterday — I was in Massachusetts, enjoying the crisp autumn air and celebrating one of my best friend’s wedding. But more on that in another post.

This week I have had my first-ever round of student conferences. Twenty minutes of discussing with each student about how they are doing in class, how they are finding the class, and about their current essay assignment. The amount of positive feedback I received was far more than what I was expecting. Here are a few gems:

“None of my other teachers really talk to us. You’re my only teacher who I actually have conversations with.”

I found this both heartening and sad.

“I love your class! It’s so great to be taught by someone who really knows their subject. Some of my other teachers don’t seem that way. But you really know what you’re talking about.”

I had to restrain myself from laughing: this student has no idea how badly I have had impostor syndrome this semester.

“I was telling my aunt, ‘My English teacher, she’s awesome! She’s short and I love her accent. She’s English or something.’ You’re my favorite teacher.”

Probably the best description of me as a teacher I’ve heard: awesome, short, cool accent.

I began each conference with a brief summary of our agenda and then I opened the discussion with a question: “In your own words, how would you describe what kind of student you are?” That would get us talking — how they perceive themselves or about the kind of student they want to be, and what I have observed as a teacher. I’d then ask different questions about the kind of work we do in class in order to gauge how effective my activities are and see what I needed to tweak or change. It was amazing to hear some students describe exactly what I had intended for each exercise to be — several, actually. There were a few outliers who just didn’t like how I structured my class, but they admitted that they could see how my structure was useful. I think it helped my students, too, to hear my rationale for some of our activities. For the outliers, maybe they will take the activities more seriously now.

Student conferences are exhausting, basically having variants of the same conversation every twenty-minutes for eight hours, but I learned that I love talking one-on-one with most of my students. I wish my classes were smaller so that I could focus my attention on a few students and have more interaction with them in class, rather than having mostly surface-level interaction spread out across a class of twenty or more. As draining as they can be, however, I’m thinking of having more than just one round of conferences next semester, and also of spreading it out over the term so that I’m not blitzing through in a week.

With all the “I love your class” and “You’re my favorite teacher” I’ve heard, I think this comment warmed my heart the most:

“I’m kind of thinking about changing my major to English.”

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