It all started with a tweet.
No, it actually probably started in March when I met this group of students.
Or earlier when they signed up for classes?
Or even earlier when they joined the program(s) I am teaching on?
This spring I taught about 45 students (in 5 groups/classes) and this was probably the nicest collection of students I have ever taught in my nearly 15 years teaching. I don’t meant the hardest working (though they were up there too) I mean the nicest. I have, of course, met lots of great and nice students in my day. In this case I mean the 5 classes I taught were all generally nice as a group. Even the students I might not individually rate as super pleasant or agreeable were nice to their peers and were positive additions to their classes.
If I had to describe this niceness I might be a bit at a loss but I think it is related to genuine kindness and concern for other humans (including but not only me). Maybe there is an element of appreciation for and understanding of others here, too. I also think it might be related to being nice to be around to work with. No personality clashes or nobody making it very difficult to get on with our purpose of being there. Heck, I don’t mean to say this term was devoid of weird or WTF moments. I don’t want to say it was a breeze, I just want to say the students were very nice.
In response to the above tweet, The Newbie CELTA Trainer (aka @NewbieCELTA) wondered if I had also been the best teacher I’d been ever. I honestly don’t believe that was the case. I was somehow reminded of the post I wrote in 2012, “Was I a better teacher in 2005 than now?” This term, I think I was solid and decent and ok and whatever but I know it was not the best I’ve been or my best, in fact. In response to Newb’s question I said, ” hmm I might have been the nicest I’ve ever been” which is quite possible. Yet, I honestly don’t think my niceness was much of a factor here. Really.
Before you chalk up these positive vibes to me and my niceness or teaching or whatever (and become one of the first people ever to accuse me of being humble) please consider:
- 3 of the 5 groups are very well bonded because they spend a lot of time together in the majority of their classes and thus the group dynamics have already been solidified
- I didn’t do much overt group dynamics stuff with 1 of the other 2 groups.
- I cannot pinpoint anything I would have done very differently to past years in terms of teaching in general or team building specifically.
- Maybe they weren’t even nicer than previous years and I am just basking in the glow of some sweet personal emails I have received.
After a short discussion on Twitter, Newbs asked another question. Regarding the reasons for students’ niceness this term he asked, “What is the first thing that comes to mind?” I appreciated the question and but found it slightly hard to answer with a character limit so here we are. The things that came to mind were clear expectations in one program (translation/interpretation) and more international students in the other (International Studies). There are surely more to it but these are the reasons that came to mind immediately.
The interpretation/translation students tend to be extremely hard working and goal oriented. It is a rigorous 2 year program and the students work incredibly hard. I feel that perhaps in the past some students were not ready for the realities of working so hard and thus their attitude (and thus niceness?) suffered as a result. To be honest and fair most of the students I have worked with in this program have been great students as well as very nice people. It seems that each year the students are getting nicer and nice. If I had to speculate, it might be because the selection procedures are more focused on who can survive and thrive in the program rather than just those with excellent English ability.
In terms of the other program, International Studies, I pointed to more international students as a factor in the niceness increase. I think this is part of the point. I just think this time there was some good luck with very nice and sincere students from around the world. Actually, thus far most of the students (and probably even more of the international students) I have encountered in this program have been very nice. Yet, somehow this term the international students seemed even nicer than in the past. It was as though there was an influx of very nice students from around the world. China was very well represented in this niceness. My thought here is that the niceness was pretty random and those students who came this term happened to be nice.
As I type this, I am thinking maybe the Korean students, including the one I called Yeajin in a previous blog post, are also nicer than in past terms as well. Is it because they are younger and less jaded? Because they really want to be in graduate school? Because they can see the immediate importance of English in their lives? Or maybe just because they are very nice people. I guess that is my final answer.
I think it was simply luck my students were so nice this term. Rather than analyze more I think maybe I’ll just be happy with the niceness and hope the next term is similar.
Update: I’d like to reiterate that I have lots of very nice groups and students in the past few years (and since I started teaching). This year it just seemed that all 6 of the groups clicked well and I felt like writing this. So spring 2014 was a term filled with niceness, which doesn’t mean that other terms weren’t or that other classes or individuals were not also excellent and nice. If one of my former students happens to be reading this I hope it didn’t cause you to think you were not nice or were part of not nice groups. My take here was that every group this term was super excellent is all. I’d hate to think there were any hurt feelings or misunderstandings.
- Is the niceness of students an important factor in your and their success?
- What does it even mean for a student to be nice?
- Are there ways to help cultivate a higher niceness factor (NF) in your groups? What do you do? Does it help or matter?
I co-wrote this piece on group dynamics a while back. Would these ideas be good for improving NF?
- Is it impossible to be strict and demanding and have nice students?
(based on comments from @phil3wade on Twitter)
- Have you ever had a year or term were all the students were nice? How about naughty? What do you think were the factors in this?
- Do nice groups even exist? Or is it a natural teaching skill to help groups gel well?
(paraphrased from @ITLegge‘s question on Twitter)