Being a teacher isn’t just about rolling out lectures and activities for your students; it’s also about developing rapport with them. That being said, establishing rapport with students is no easy business as some people might think. In order to be able to truly connect with your students, you must have a high degree of emotional intelligence, which may involve having a few psychology hacks up your sleeve.
People with high emotional intelligence are incredibly observant and empathetic, but they are also highly introspective and self-reflective. Being an emotionally intelligent teacher also means knowing what to say and what not to say to your students. This article goes over the latter, and the following items are five things that, in my humble opinion, you should never tell a student.
1. “Are you Japanese?”
It’s totally normal (and wonderful!) to be curious about someone’s nationality or cultural/ethnic background, but it’s never okay to ask assumptive questions. What may come across to you as non-offensive or even flattering may end up being considerably offensive to your students, and you might also end up looking ignorant and narrow minded, killing your chances of building any meaningful relationship with them.
Instead: You should ask your students, “Where are you from?” This not only allows them to answer without getting offended but also invites them to share more information about themselves. If you’re an English conversation teacher, I’m sure you’re well aware that open-ended questions (e.g., questions beginning with wh- words) tend to elicit much more in terms of responses than close-ended questions (e.g., questions that only require a “yes” or “no” response).
2. “You’re so smart!”
Telling your students that they’re smart or talented may seem harmlessly complimentary, but in reality it only fosters a fixed mindset, the belief that abilities are fixed, rather than a growth mindset, the belief that abilities can be developed. These two terms were popularized by Carol S. Dweck, Ph.D., author of the bestseller Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, who believes that those with a growth mindset are much more likely to succeed than those with a fixed mindset. People with a fixed mindset tend to think that intelligence and abilities are innate and that, as a result, there is no relationship between performance and effort. Students who have this attitude are more likely to give up easily and make little to no effort to improve.
Instead: Mention to your students that you recognize and appreciate their hard work and diligence and have noticed their progress–if that really is the case, of course. If they’re struggling, find something about them that you can make positive or affirming statements about and show them how they can use those qualities to their advantage as students. Examples of qualities that you can point out are their ability to emotionally connect with fellow students, their curiosity and inquisitive nature, their ability to write well in English (this is often true for students who find it difficult to speak English and/or are tremendously shy, and vice versa), and their leadership acumen.
3. “This question is easy.”
This one’s a no-no for good reason. If you say this right before a student answers a question, it pressures them to get the question right because it’s, well, “easy”, making them focus less on the actual question and more on getting it right. This, in turn, increases the likelihood of the student committing an error. If the student gets the question wrong, they, of course, feel awful because of their “inability” to answer an “easy” question.
Instead: You can say something like this: “I know you can easily get this question right. You’ve been doing so well with linking words.” This puts less pressure on your student but at the same time encourages them to utilize (and develop) their abilities.
4. Your age
Countries like South Korea have what we would call a “vertical” hierarchy, a system in which age is the main determinant for respect. Although this system is very gradually eroding, having a teacher who is the same age as or younger than they are may give some of your students pause.
Yes, it’s strongly encouraged to create connections with your students by exchanging information about yourselves, but there should also be a professional boundary, especially in the beginning stages of a teacher-student relationship. However, when you’ve been teaching a student for a longer period of time (for example, one to two years), it may be acceptable to divulge your age and other personal/sensitive pieces of information about yourself, as long as you still maintain a certain degree of professionalism.
Instead: Learn about your students’ interests, hobbies, and careers and familiarize yourself with them. You don’t have to be an expert in these areas, but it doesn’t hurt to read an article or two about them and ask questions. Plus, this gives you an opportunity to expand your own horizons and explore new possibilities for yourself. Maybe knitting isn’t exactly a “Millennial thing” or making TikTok videos isn’t really your jam, but if you take even just a little peek into your students’ lives, you might just find yourself interlocking loops of wool or taking on that next dance challenge—and really, really enjoying it.
5. “Actually, the correct answer is ______, but thank you for your effort.”
This sentence might seem safe, but the second clause carries a (albeit slightly) negative connotation. Sure, it may seem positive at first glance—because you’re thanking your student, right? But what exactly are you thanking them for? Think about it for a second. If your answer is that you’re thanking them for an effort that led them to the wrong answer and, by doing so, bringing even more attention to their mistake or error, you’re correct!
Instead: Since the last thing you want to do is bring more attention to the student’s wrong answer, all you have to do is provide a clear explanation for the answer, ensure that the student completely understands, and move on. There’s no need to thank the student, as it may draw unnecessary attention to the wrong answer and even come off as patronizing. You could even provide the student with an easier question (easy enough that you think the student has a high chance of answering it correctly but not too easy). When the student answers the answer correctly, you should give them their well-deserved praise and continue building their knowledge and self-esteem.
If these insights helped you or you have ideas of your own that you’d like to share, don’t be afraid to say so in the comments section below or send us a message through our website (by clicking on the Subscribe tab). We look forward to hearing from you!