One bit of wisdom that I have learned during my time here is the importance of meeting with students at the beginning of the semester. I meet with each of my students one-on-one for ten minutes sometime outside of my normal class and office hour times. These are intended to be social meetings, rather than meetings where we talk about math. This allows me at least one experience interacting with the student with him/her being “the math student” and me being “the math teacher.”
A large portion of my job is to help graduate students have a successful teaching experience, and I have been recommending that they meet individually with their students ever since I got here. I have heard several success stories of graduate students “turning the class around” after meeting with the students, and salvaging the semester for everyone after a rocky start. Still, I guess it didn’t sink in how effective these meetings are.
The primary reason why I was surprised at how well the meetings work is because I normally teach freshmen. I have seven years of teaching experience, but probably 90% of the students whom I have taught have been freshmen. I have always felt that I could get away without meeting my students (although it is better if I do) because I have developed ways of getting to know students while teaching them.
This semester, I am teaching an upper-level math course: discrete mathematics. I felt that this class got off to a bit of a slow start – things weren’t awful, but there was not the normal “atmosphere” in my classroom. In my second week of class, after the semester had settled in, I had my meetings with the students in the discrete math course. I met with them between the Monday lecture and the Wednesday lecture, and Wednesday’s lecture was ridiculously better than Monday’s – it was like night and day.
I think that there are two reasons for this. First, I felt more comfortable with my students. I had never taught an upper-level course before, and I was not completely comfortable teaching students that I didn’t “know.” I wasn’t sure what their experience was, what their confidence level was, and what their goals were. I learned much of this from my 10 minute meetings, and I am sure that my comfortable was evident during Wednesday’s lecture.
The second reason is that I think that the students were more comfortable, too. They found out that I was not a jerk, and at the very least I was willing to give up five hours of my time to meet with the entire class. The students were immediately friendlier toward me, and now everyone enjoys the class more.