The Power of Bumping into Students in the Hallway

At a conference in New York last week, I met a physics teacher from Toronto. He spoke thoughtfully and honestly about his teaching, and despite having been identified by his school as a master teacher, he said that for the past two years, he had been failing as a teacher.

He explained that after a long and rewarding career, he had retired a few years ago. However, his school had asked to come out of retirement two years ago to teach part time. About 6 months into the first year, he felt that something was wrong; it didn't feel right. During his second year, he realized what it was. He would come in to the school, teach his classes, then leave, possibly not to return for a couple of days until his classes cycled back through.

He realized that he was missing all the incidental contact with his students that really build relationships and understanding of one another. He wasn't bumping into them in the cafeteria, in assembly, in the hallways, in clubs, and advisory. He was coaching them on the sports fields or even seeing them play in athletic contests. In short, he felt that had become just a classroom instructor rather than an involved member of the faculty, and as such, he just didn't have the same relationships he once had had as a full-time teacher.

As teachers, we have the opportunity to connect with our students in so many ways. Much of this contact might seem to be inconsequential, but each meeting adds a little more richness and understanding between the teacher and the student. And this rich understanding can have multiple benefits when we are trying to engage, motivate, and guide them in the classroom.