From what we have seen in the literature and from our experience working with a wide variety of teachers across disciplines, building rapport and creating a positive learning environment is one of the most crucial element of your success as a teacher.
If students know you and believe that you care about their learning, they are more likely to forgive you for any missteps. Getting to know your students also enhances your ability to create a successful learning environment. In the process of getting to know them, you are communicating that you care about them and their success. Additionally, knowing about their backgrounds and interests allows you to tailor your approach. For example, if you find there is a great discrepancy among the class in background knowledge, you may be able to arrange students into groups to help each other. If you know your students’ interests and backgrounds, you’ll be better able to choose examples that resonate with them.
Remember, there are so many ways for students to access content. They can read, watch a video, go to a museum. So, why is it that they should come to your class to learn? What is it that you are offering that is essential to their learning and growing in your field? To start, you need to create a positive environment. How do you do that?
First, introduce yourself. What is your background? What are your credentials? What do you find genuinely interesting about the course, and what are some of your other interests? The more students are able to connect with you, the easier your job will be. Similarly, the more you know about them, the better. So, get to know your students. Ask your students to share with you why they are taking the course and what they hope to get out of it. Find out what their previous experience with the subject is. Learn their names. Encourage office hours by making one visit mandatory in the first month. Knowing more about your students will make it easier for you to teach them. Remember that you may be nervous as a teacher, but the students may also be nervous about a new class, new teacher, and potentially very new material. Breaking the tension right away can help to put everyone at ease.
Build rapport among the group. Give your students opportunities to work with each other. Ask them to move around and work with different partners throughout a session. This is especially important for discussion classes, or sessions that require a lot of participation. Be sure to start with icebreakers to get things comfortable. It can be as simple as having students introduce themselves to a partner and then introduce their partner to the larger group.