What’s the point of a teacher you can’t build a relationship with?

I’m getting to where it’s nearly impossible for me to envision teaching without seeing it as relational.

I was reading a discussion about college faculty and their communication methods with students. Of course, people vary in the way they prefer to engage others, and the faculty/student relationship adds another wrinkle to that question.  Most teachers today ban Facebook requests from students, limit their availability via text or cell phone, and prefer to shepherd student interactions into clearly-defined spaces like office hours.

It bothers me that many college faculty are even less approachable than, say, a public high school teacher.  You’d think that adult students would have even more of a “right” to expect that a professor would be personally engaged, but it seems that our modern academies do not think so.  Some of them, at least.

I realize that time is a limited and valuable resource, one that many education professionals must guard jealously to avoid overload. Oh believe me, I remember.  For the first time in 10 years I’m not heading home every night to another 2 or 3 hours of work.  So I totally get why teachers want to guard their time from intrusion by the rug-rats they’re teaching during the day. And yes, “rug-rat” can refer to college freshmen. lol

Teaching is a highly social activity, one that drains you of  your ability to give attention to other human beings. My desire to know other people and engage them hit a low point during the school years and bobbed back up over the summer when suddenly I had the emotional energy again to build relationships.

(By the way, I understand that enforcing office hours and communication channels do function as a fence that allows people to get work done when they don’t want to be disturbed. But do you really need a fence around EVERY other hour of your life?)

But I ramble.

My point is this:
If you don’t see teaching as a relational activity, then why are you in it?

If teaching (college or high school or whatever) is mere information-transfer, then you have no business demanding that other human beings reorganize their schedules to put themselves in the same geographical location as you. A web site, textbook, or online course should replace you.

Even if we acknowledge that much teaching involves the transfer of skills, and mentoring students into certainways of doing — say, to play the violin or make a flambe or fix the fuel injectors or argue a case before a judge — I still question whether any teacher has the right to treat teaching like an object which can be dropped at will (especially at 5pm) and picked up again with any given student, on cue, as if the factory bell had rung to call everyone to the assembly line.

Very little good can happen to a human being outside of a relationship.

Andy Jones, who is on staff at the Chalmers Center for Economic Development at Covenant College (a non-profit dedicated to equipping churches to help the poor without hurting the poor in the process) spoke in chapel here at Erskine on Tuesday.  One line from his sermon stood out to me:

“When humans flourish, it is because of positive relationships.” 

He said this while explaining that poverty is not an issue of monetary disadvantage; poverty (as described by the poor themselves) is a state of being an outcast, living outside the boundaries of normal human society. To fix poverty, you have to repair the relationships (to God, society, family, and one’s self).

Professors and teachers must recognize that their value to their students lies NOT in their vast knowledge which they share in lecture form.

It is not even in their ability to mentor a student from apprentice to mastery of a skill.

The power of an educator lies solely in his/her ability to develop meaningful relationships with students, relationships that lead to students flourishing as human beings because of the investment of the teacher on a personal, meaningful level. 

And that, my friends, will not be a work limited to 8am-5pm.  You can shut your door to Facebook friend requests, text messages, cell phone exchanges, and even human contact outside of office hours and classroom time … but I question your value to the educational profession.  Yes, very learned people can add knowledge to a subject discipline…. but Kingdom work takes place in hearts more than in journal articles.

My former NCS coworkers & I do occasional blogging on topics in relational teaching and Grace-based education at our blog Teaching Redemptively

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