I love interacting with students; it’s one of the best parts of my job, however I love some parts of it more than others. I’ve learned that all student interactions can be broken into two groups. The first group fosters a human connection between faculty and students. The second group is tedious busy work that has zilch to do with connection.

Sometimes it’s easy to identify the true nature of an interaction from the jump. “What chapter are we reading this week?” and other questions that could be answered by a cursory glance at the syllabus best characterize the second group. These requests are tedious busy work that the student is attempting to off load from their todo list on to yours. They are asking you to cut their steak for them. Don’t.

“What you said in class today really affected me. Can we talk about it?” while it’s rarely said this overtly, when students approach you with requests like these you should come alive or probably think of getting another job. This is what teaching sociology is all about. When students admit that they have gaps in their knowledge they are showing you their vulnerability. If you shame them or do not properly answer their questions, they will close up for the rest of the semester and perhaps a once in a lifetime opportunity to deeply learn sociology will be lost.

Be aware that sometimes a simple request or question can be a veiled request for connection. For instance, “can you help me calculate my grade,” may really be a cry for help. You have to develop a sixth sense for these, watching body language, listening to intonation, and placing questions in context. I hear a lot of academics talking about student entitlement, but we must remember that students are not a monolithic group. Some expect too much, but others don’t dare to make reasonable requests.

Ruthless Maximization of Human Interactions

The mark of a true pro is the ruthless maximization of interactions that develop human connection and the equally ruthless minimization of those that don’t. You and I have a finite amount of time each day for students. Each moment you spend cutting your student’s steak for them is a moment you cannot spend on developing a human connection with your students. My wife always says, “just because someone throws the ball to you doesn’t mean you have to catch it.”

Always be looking for ways that your students can carry the other half of the board. The more you can put the onus on their shoulders, the freer you are to develop a human connection with them.

Over the years I’ve developed tactics to put this maximization ideal into practice.
If connection interactions are the needles and tedious busy work interactions are the hay, I want to show you how to blast through the hay with as little effort as possible. Over the next few posts I want to share with you the strategies that I use to minimize the time I spend on non-connection student interactions.

The Getting Through The Hay Series:

  1. Scheduling Student Appointments The Easy Way
  2. Boiler Plating Emails
  3. Dealing with a torrent of email
  4. Streamlining Letter of Recommendation Requests