How to connect with your students

How to connect with your students

It was not something I had planned to do: Teaching. I was this hard-core, on-the-floor, F&B operations kind of person. So, when I decided to teach, my friends were super surprised – I was too!

It happened as a natural extension of my training while working and my need to establish a specialisation course in bartending. There wasn’t one when I needed it; and 17 years later still nothing.

I thought it was my bounden duty to share with young minds all that I had gathered over the years to help shape their lives and get them ahead just a little bit faster. So Tally-ho and all that, and there I was putting together a hitherto unheard of syllabus which would encompass everything one needed to know about bartending and then some. From scratch.

It wasn’t easy as there was no precedent for this, right from the very beginning kind of course, in India or outside of it. What concerned me more was the whole idea of a formal classroom training over six months. Getting students to connect, focus and not get bored or distracted while at it.

Reading minds

The question then to address was: what, about my classrooms and teachers, did I dislike the most? And try never ever to repeat any of that. There was a lot that I remembered. I had spent a fair amount of time standing outside the classroom or in the principal’s office.

I learned very quickly that attention spans were small and jargon zoned them out. My earlier lessons in understanding the group at hand helped. I did explain some boundaries, but broke the ice by beginning the academic session by talking about them – their aspirations, their dreams, even their fantasies.

Why bartending? If not bartending, then what? That gave a window into their lives and mind to be saved for later. It also showed me at what level they were and how I could mould them to get better.

There were some who were timid and easily intimidated, some who were outgoing and happy, and still others who were rough and a mite aggressive. I had to find ways for them to come together, cohesive rather than fractioned. Understanding this early makes it easier in the long run.

The idea very firmly is getting into their minds and speaking to them, at their level, in a language they can understand. Smile a lot. Joke a little. Have some fun. Connect with them. And then teach.

Showing mettle

Look at the lighter side of every subject, tell stories and then get into the thick of it. Slowly they fall into the groove and begin the learning journey happily. I also impressed upon them the importance of asking questions, irrespective of how silly it may seem.

My teachers didn’t like being asked questions, and it definitely hampered my learning. Every question needs to be answered. The more one questions, the more one learns.

It did get me into trouble every now and again as the questions got too quirky or ones I didn’t have answers to. Which sent me back to the classroom and learn some more! It also showed them that nobody knew everything – even me! But the willingness to accept that, then research and find the answers, showed mettle.

Young people are often told by angry grown-ups or insensitive teachers that they will never learn or be any good. Their worst enemy in their minds is memory, or rather, a lack of it. School and college academics can quite often allow you to believe that. I’ve been there and can resonate with it.

I spend time impressing upon them that everyone is capable of being great at what they do. That we all have grey cells that are just dying to be used. That the human brain is a marvelous machine that gets better and better the more you use it. It has endless storage and auto upgrading ram.

What matters

The brain is filled with tiny little boxes of memory from forever, just waiting to unlock and remind you of times gone by. To give you when you need it the most. They usually look at me in disbelief till I play games with them.

Name players from every cricket or football team in the world; movies with their favorite actor; songs from their favourite artists; and pat come the answers. They have a memory. It works!

Memory reminds me of how my 95-year-old, completely lucid, father-in-law would insist his memory was failing him. That he couldn’t remember what he ate for lunch, or what he watched on TV.

But he had no hesitation when asked for his bank account number, or reminding me that he had asked me to update his pass book! You remember only what is important to you, or what matters.

If you make learning interesting, and if it is what they are there to do willingly, the chances are they will learn and make you proud. I must say, I bask in reflected glory all the time.

It told me the difference between a lecturer and a teacher. Once again, having the ability to know it is about “them” and not “you”!