I started my college class last week with a story:
Researchers at the University of Maryland asked 200 of their professors, “What are your biggest concerns the first day of class?”
One of the top responses was: “Will students like me?”
Then the researchers asked the same question to students—“What are you most concerned about on the first day of class?”
Guess what they said?
The exact same thing—“Will I like the professor?”
The survey responses tell me that teachers and students are not that different. Both want good relationships more than anything.
Students were like, Wow. I can’t believe professors care about what we think of them. At least that’s what I intuited from their reactions.
In teaching, nothing is more important than relationships. That’s what all my talks about professors thinking like marketers are really about—less selling and more cultivating.
But that’s the part professors have the most trouble with. They can’t shed the idea that scholars can “sell” without being sleazy. They think, students are not customers! Teaching isn’t a business!
They’re missing the point.
Real marketing is about building a relationship with people—those who can benefit from what you offer. You have expertise. You want to make sure students grow from it. But how are you going to get it across to them? Many are busy, distracted, and/or skeptical, borne from too many years of droning lectures and passive learning.
You may think, But students are eager to bathe in knowledge—to learn for the sake of learning!
I say, get over yourself.
That mentality is naïve, and dare I say a bit pretentious (sorry!). It only reinforces the notion that professors live in ivory towers.
Your first order of business the first few classes is to connect with students. Tell them about yourself. Learn their names (have you played the Name Game?). Or use a story, like I did above, to show commonality.
Maya Angelou famously said: “… people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” You want to leave a lasting impression on students—change them the way that one professor changed your life?
Build that bridge.