Math teachers are assumed to be unable to form relationships with kids. Societal representations of teachers portray someone who tells corny jokes, plays board games in their free time or is the geekiest of computer geeks (and in my case all three!). Whether or not you fit typical math teacher stereotypes, it is critical to have strong relationships with students in your role as a math teacher.
This may go without saying, but having strong relationships are important for learning math, or anything. Kids are people, and all people exist in a social context alongside other people. Why ignore the reality of the classroom? Why not use relationships to win students over? I have learned a few tricks in my first few years of teaching and I hope to archive them here for my reference, and maybe someone else can make use of them as well.
It’s not always what you say, it’s often how you say it
So your relationship to students is really made up of all the little interactions you have with the students, most of which are focused on getting the students to complete a task. As you explain the steps of the task individually or clarify a point made in front of class, really think about the way in which you are saying it. In a situation where you have to deliver the same words over and over for multiple classes, sometimes altering the tone of your message is the only way to resonate with the varied types of learners you have in your classroom.
How many ways can you say it? Good question. Well you could consider varying the different kinds of intonations and inflections of your voice. Think of a newscaster, if they have to read a list of things, they will never say it the same way twice.
The more important thing to consider is emotion and energy. How would you approach the slow progress of a student who is just finished arguing, or another student is having a giggle session with their friends, or perhaps another who is really math phobic? You have to take into account their emotional state as you work to get them realigned to the task. If you try to be stern with all of them, perhaps the giggle session will respond, but the math phobic kid might shut down, and the argumentative student may turn your class into an episode of Jerry Springer. The trick isn’t to alter the messages, as they all need to get on task, instead deliver the message while trying to convey the opposite of their emotion and energy. If they feel insecure you should model confidence and positivity, and if they are full of jokes, you can be dead pan and stern. I’ve learned the opposite of anger is usually caring, so letting angry students know that you care about them usually helps them get back on track (especially if you can tie the task to their goals, their past successes, and things that they are passionate about).
As you make your way around the room, and around the school, working to perfect “how you say it” can be a bit of a new challenge, but it’s a good challenge. Once you figure out the message you have to say, tailoring that message to the emotional and energy state of each student can add an intriguing twist to your day. You may start to engage students you wouldn’t have otherwise, and in the process bolster your relationships with all your students.