The thing I like the most about teaching is not teaching; it's finding ways to connect with the kids, especially the kids who don't think that teachers have anything in common with them. It's not that hard - I really do enjoy a lot of different books, movies, music, etc., and I'm very curious, so I've learned about many things even if I don't necessarily enjoy them.
When I assess a new student, the first thing I ask them is what they like. Of course, there are different ways to do this depending on how old the child is. If the student is little, I ask them what they like to play and who they like to play with. If they're older, I might ask them what they like to read or what movies they like to watch. Sometimes it takes a few questions and sometimes they look at me like I'm saying the dumbest thing they've ever heard... until I get to the question that is something they love.
With my newest student, it's Harry Potter. She is 12 years old and she loves Harry Potter. She told me no, she doesn't like TV, she doesn't like music, she doesn't like sports - and her whole body language was tuned out - and then I got to books and movies. I told her I've read all the books and she said she's read the first three but after that "they get really long" but she loves the movies and she's going to dress up as Dobby the house-elf and go see the movie at midnight on opening night with her sister and she can't even sleep because she's so excited and...
So, now I have the motivation to get her to write. She doesn't like to write - oh, but if she can write about her Dobby costume, she'll do it. She doesn't want to keep a journal. But if it's a Harry Potter journal, that's a whole different story. The questions started coming: Can she write about the movie after she sees it? Can she write about all the different costumes? [Note to all teachers and parents: if a kid says "Can I write about _____?, the answer is yes.]
Connecting to a kid like this brings a whole different dynamic to the relationship. It can be hard if you're not used to trying to keep authority , because you don't want to lose that part of the relationship. But when it's balanced, I think it really builds respect and even makes the student more willing to do what you're asking of him or her.
It gets a little harder when you really don't have that much in common, but I think even just listening and asking questions about what the student is passionate about goes a long way. I had one student who was being tutored in Spanish and, it seemed, the only thing he enjoyed in life was comic books, and he was WAY into them. Giving him two minutes at the end of each session to explain a comic book character to me was all he needed to get motivated. As a result, I also know more about Batgirl than I ever hoped to.
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