Explore potential strategies.
Students may perceive you as unapproachable.
There are a variety of reasons why students may perceive you as unapproachable. While you may not see yourself as an intimidating person, your status as a professor might intimidate students, especially first years. Behaviors that you deem formal and professional in the classroom could be interpreted by your students as cold and aloof. Likewise, your own shyness or introversion might be perceived in a negative way. Consequently, it is important to break down the barriers in order to reframe students’ perceptions.
This is an opportunity for you to get to know more about your students; for example, some faculty members ask questions that range from "how was your weekend" or "have you seen any interesting movies lately" to "how difficult was the last homework assignment" or "how long did the last lab take you to complete." These quick and simple gestures will help students to build a sense of connection to you.
While some people are much better at remembering names, students appreciate the attempt despite whether you are successful or not. Ask students their name when they pose a question or answer one of yours, and use the name in responding to them. Download a copy of the photo roster from ACIS and bring it to class with you. Note that you can obtain a photo roster until the last day to add a course.
The formal nature of many classrooms can hinder students’ views of professors as people. An invitation for one-on-one or small group interaction with students can break down the barrier. Some faculty members teaching large classes prompt students, in groups of three or four, to invite them for coffee or lunch as a way to connect with students. Other faculty members, in smaller classes, require students to meet individually with them during the first two weeks of class.
Embed examples, applications and topics within lectures that either connect to students’ fields of study and/or resonate with the culture and interests of this generation of students. This gesture not only makes the material more relevant to students, but it also helps them to view you as someone who understands their interests, needs, etc. and thus is approachable.
Tell students, for example, that you are shy or introverted, that you simply don’t smile frequently, that you often don’t recognizes faces outside the classroom or that you have difficulty memorizing names, and ask them to approach you anyway. This simple gesture allows students to reformulate their view of you and potentially seek you out when necessary. In cases of extreme shyness, well-known faculty members have admitted to taking on another "persona" (as we do everyday in a variety of different settings) as a way to address their shyness.
A syllabus that falls into the lister (i.e., articulates a laundry list of topics for the course and not much else) or scolder (i.e., indicates penalties in all caps and bold face for late work, missed classes, etc. and not much else) category can set a negative or uncaring tone for the course. Conversely, a syllabus that clearly articulates your objectives/expectations, the students' role in the course, the amount of work and level of feedback and support they can expect, etc., creates the perception that you care about their learning experience. As a result, students may be much more willing to approach you. How you introduce yourself, the course, your expectations, etc. in the syllabus will send a message about the level of interaction you want with students.
What you do on the first day of class sets the tone for the entire course. How you introduce yourself, the course, your expectations, etc., as well as what you actually do, will send a message about the level of interaction you want with the students.
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