This last week I had the privilege of presenting at the second International Forum on Language Teaching Conference in Breckenridge, Colorado.  For two hours and fifteen minutes every morning I taught a group of intermediate secondary students that ranged from Spanish 2 to Spanish AP.  The challenge was to teach them using comprehensible input strategies in such a way that challenged each student, but left none behind: true differentiation. After each teaching session, the students were dismissed and the teacher observers and I discussed what had happened for an hour or so. At the end of the three day experience, students had the opportunity to talk about how they felt and answer teacher questions. Here is another student comment that resonated with me.

“I could tell that you liked us.” I knew that we would need to establish rapport in order for the group to function similarly to a real class.  I wanted the teacher observers to get that feel of how a close, trusting class reacts, so I intentionally used several strategies to make it happen. It was a fast-forward version of a get-to-know you that many foreign language teachers do at the beginning of the school year in every class, but instead of two weeks, we had only one hour to begin to get to know one another and to form some group cohesion.  Here are some things I intentionally did:

I got on their level.

I looked each kid intently in the eyes as they were talking to me.

I asked follow up questions to their informational comments.

I used the information that students had offered in the stories, which delighted the kids.

I think that the students picked up that I liked them because I listened to them.  I remembered their names and something about each student and used those elements, plus aspects of their personalities that I had sensed, in the stories that we made up together in class. I also asked them about their town and school and how things worked around Breckenridge, since I didn’t know.  I gave them a measure of control and pride.

A sad follow up to the above student comment was, “Not all of our teachers do

[like us].” How tragic that they felt that some of their teachers did not like or respect them.  Surely their teachers did (I mean why would teachers work in a school if they didn’t like kids, right?), but the pressures of the day-to-day life at school can do that to us all.

Lesson for me:  Students can tell if we like them or not. We can’t fake it.