Yesterday I heard that Joe was taking a course this summer with Angela, one of the faculty members of the team. It reminded me of something I’ve noticed over time. For about ten years, I have taken a group of students to present their research at a regional economics conference. That experience seems to change the dynamics of the subsequent student-teacher relationship.
The change begins when students commit to attending the conference. To be eligible, they submit a research paper. However ‘complete’ their research papers, we always revise them during the Spring semester prior to the conference. This work is done neither for grade nor credit, simply because it’s what is necessary to make the paper conference-ready. It seems to me that during this process, I become more a mentor than a (traditional) teacher. The relationship seems more collegial than hierarchical.
The conference is a tremendous experience in which we get to know each other far deeper than is typical with students and teachers. Part of this is spending several intense days together. But I think an important part is when students see the teacher acting as a professional in his or her field, and when the students are accepted as similar albeit journeyman professionals.
What is particularly interesting is to see the extent to which the changed relationship persists when we return from the conference Some of the students are in my courses–or they take one next semester. In those classes, the students seem less concerned by grades and more interested in learning. They seem to relate to me as a helpful expert, less as the person responsible for their grade.
Has anyone else had this experience with students? If so, how might we build this into our courses more generally?