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Build a rapport, build a rapport bla bla bla. Yeah, we know what building a rapport means. Or do we? I used to understand this concept as being rather superficial: knowing the hobbies, likes, dislikes etc of your students so we can plan lessons around their preferences. But a superficial understanding will lead to superficial results. I hadn’t been in Moscow for long, maybe a couple of years where I decided that I really want to build a stronger rapport and in order to do that I had to know them better; to truly understand those little darlings. 

Very cleverly and strategically as students came in one by one, I’d be there talking to them (no matter the level; I’d grade my language to some extent). I’d show interest in their school lives, they’d share the odd story about family life and what they got up to at the weekend. This happened even between tasks as a breather or at the end of a lesson instead of playing games. But this is where I went further than ‘the book:’ I was working ever so consciously on picking up vital information, finding commonalities, similarities, assessing their attitudes and responses to various issues without ever getting personal. Finally, I was able to put the pieces of the puzzle together and make conclusions after I had done a bit of introspection. 


I remember posing myself the following questions when introspecting: 

👉🏻What did you expect from a good teacher when you were young? 

👉🏻Do you remember why you liked some teachers and despised others? 

👉🏻Did you like some teachers because the lesson was a “doss” or because you achieved something? 

👉🏻How did one word of encouragement or criticism often make you feel from parents and teachers? 

👉🏻How was school a break from a turbulent home life and which teachers made school welcoming? 

👉🏻How did you feel when you were talked down to? 

👉🏻How did you behave when you were treated like an equal, an adult? 
Oh there were many more questions. Believe me! Hundreds! As an English teenager of course emotionally I couldn’t put two and two together. I was a kid, immature. Only much later as an adult did I realize that: 

👉🏻We really forget how we felt when we were young.

👉🏻We give our students what they want and not what they need 

👉🏻Being adults we often treat kids too much like kids 

👉🏻As adults we often see our students too much from our frames of reference rather than through the eyes of our teens. That’s just a lack of emotional intelligence to be honest.

And why did I excel at German and not much else? Oh yes, Mr Room, because he talked to me like an adult, explained things perfectly, encouraged me, was so positive, listened to me when I had issues, knew my dad was an engineer and mother a pharmacologist, even knew the school my sisters attended, and again… he… treated… me… as… an… equal. And just from that I went to uni to become a German linguist. Just heartbreaking that Mr Room passed away a few years back way before his time. He never made any excuses that guy. He just treated me like an equal... and would be proud of me right now!


With taking a long hard look at my whole teenage life and desperately trying to recall how I felt, I realised that (back in those days with long blond hair) I had actually quite a lot in common emotionally with those teens who happened to be sitting right in front of me. It was more than just a rapport: we were on the same page but with just a few years between us. 

All teens think they’re older than they really are. I was the same. All teens think they’re knowledgeable with unrivaled wisdom. Oh, like I was. A lot of my teens have experienced hardship. So have I. The list is endless. So now I was combining my understanding of the average life of a teenager by looking back at my own. I had now developed a strong sense of EMPATHY. But that was not enough. I initiated the following: 

👉🏻They wanted to be treated like adults. Ok, first step: teen text books in the bin. Move to adult ones. Sure, teens will have opinions (no matter if really basic) on such themes as money and employment but I shall treat those opinions with respect and make use of my ‘age advantage’ by combing their opinions with my experience. I’ll do that with teens above 12. 

👉🏻I will treat them as equals 

👉🏻I will encourage, listen to them attentively and respond to their opinions appropriately. I will show my teens that I can learn from them. I know nothing about horse-riding. I can learn! 

👉🏻I will treat them as equals 

👉🏻I will give them tough tasks to complete which, through my expertise, they’ll be able to complete and have an overwhelming sense of accomplishment. 

👉🏻I will treat them as equals 

👉🏻I will be open about my life (not going too personal) so that my teens know they’re not alone. 

👉🏻I will treat them as equals 

👉🏻I am the teacher, they are my students. It’s not about me being liked or building friendships. I demand to be treated my dignity and respect, teens do too. And I will oblige. 

👉🏻And if there is an issue in class, I’m pretty sure it’s my fault. I will never use my age or position as a tool of blackmail to assert my authority. I will earn respect and not demand it. I will not make excuses or shift the blame when I know deep down I am the cause of my teens playing up by not doing my job properly.

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