The Teacher – Student Intersection

Tim Van SoelenCACE Studies2 Comments

18It is safe to say that the 2015-16 school year has begun in most schools across North America. In several of the Midwest states, legislation was passed to move back the first day of school. Iowa legislators decided that August 23 is the first day that schools may officially begin. The City of Sioux Falls, South Dakota, allowed citizens to vote on an initiative to start school after Labor Day. This initiative passed (52%-48%) so 23,000 students and 3,000 staff members began intersecting on September 8.

On whatever date your local schools commenced, the fact of the matter is that each school day millions (maybe billions?) of teacher-student intersections occur. The system or societal institution we know as school has purposefully created these moments, investing profoundly on the effect that these interactions have on the lives of students. Whether that moment is as formal as a large group, direct teaching experience, or as informal as a one-on-one remedial Algebra II session before school, these intersections are what our parents are spending their treasures on.

The intentionality of these intersections is a critical part of the task for those who teach Christianly. It begins with a core value system that recognizes who each student is (an image-bearer of God), what they have been saved from and what they have been saved to. Jesus’ intersections with Simon Peter provides a clear model for those of us who will be in a similar posture with our students today.

Jesus pursued Peter. From the beginning, Peter was running away and this actually got worse as their relationship deepened. Consider their final few intersections before Christ was crucified. When Jesus revealed His upcoming death, Peter’s bold response was “that will never happen to you!” Peter told Jesus he would die with him only to deny knowing Him hours later. Yet, who does Christ put in charge after His resurrection…..Peter!  Jesus continues to develop the relationship. Peter now knows following Christ is not about perfection but about loving Him. A love that endures failure. A love that is now expressed in service (“Feed my sheep”). Christ met Peter in the intersection, allowing Peter to make some poor choices, but not once did He stop loving Peter. Do our students know this kind of love in our classrooms? Do we pursue them relentlessly? Do we allow them second and third chances to get it right? If so, do we see this intersection intentionality as our act of service (“Feed my sheep”) to the One who loves us beyond measure?

Nicholas Provenzano, self-proclaimed as The Nerdy Teacher, provides some practical advice on providing space for such intersections of this agape love to occur in today’s classroom. His first encouragement is to take advantage of the First Five Minutes (FFM). He was struggling to find ways to get class started on time, to take advantage of every possible learning moment during the day. His frustration grew until he noticed something that occurred at almost every faculty meeting. The first few minutes were pleasantries, adults catching up on their lives, settling down and getting into the right frame of mind for the meeting. How do we spend the first five minutes of the school day? Do we allow students to get ready for their day? To tell a few stories about what happened over the weekend or the night before? Do we listen to these stories and ask questions? Do we view these first five minutes as data conversations, identifying patterns and developing a deeper understanding of who we are teaching?

Nicholas’ second suggestion was to attend the co-curricular life of the school. And, not only attend but participate. Participation could certainly include coaching but it might also be helping with supervision. Participation might be volunteering to be the “snack shack” sponsor who walks alongside high school students who might be interested in business. Developing and implementing a business plan to manage concessions (ordering, scheduling, price points, etc.) would create a number of unique intersections to occur. Or, maybe it is as simple as sitting in the student section for a few minutes and having a short conversation with a student or group of students. What events have you recently attended? How did you participate or did you simply attend? Who did you intersect with?

The Nerdy Teacher’s last suggestion was to publish and hold office hours, a tip that probably works best for middle and high school students (although I think you can discover some great elementary teachers by seeing who has kids in their room after school). He has found that these intersections have turned into a safe place for students to come before class and talk about what is going on in their lives – from typical adolescent stuff that passes in a day or two to expressions of doubt, depression, and frustration. He states “I give up time in the morning but I gain important connections with my students that allows me to not only help them with their problems, but also engage them in the classroom.”

What do the teacher-student intersections look like in your classroom or school? Are teachers traveling on the freeway, fast and furious as they race alongside other travelers but never really intersect? Or do they travel down the city streets, full of stoplights, stop signs and even the occasional uncontrolled intersection where they have to interact with the other travelers?  Do you have any best practices that you are willing to share with CACE readers?


  • Tim Van Soelen

    Dr. Tim Van Soelen serves as the Director of CACE. Tim is also a professor of education at Dordt University. He has served as a principal, assistant principal, and middle school math and computer teacher at schools in South Dakota and California. Tim has his undergraduate degree from Dordt and advanced degrees from Azusa Pacific University and the University of South Dakota.

2 Comments on “The Teacher – Student Intersection”

  1. Great stuff, Tim. Thanks. This isn’t exactly “posted office hours” but one thing we did this year in our HS was to develop a “skinny period” of 35 minutes in which two days per week is used for “community” (it’s the best word we could come up with for now, but we’re open to suggestions). During this time students check in a specific room for something that would resemble a study hall, however they are free to go see any teacher (who all are available during this time) to receive help on their learning for that teacher’s class. It’s really providing opportunities for those relationships to develop in a great way.

    Doesn’t seem that innovative but structuring those opportunities can lead to some great things.

    1. Thanks for sharing, Mitch. I agree completely – small structural changes can have big effect sizes! Sioux Falls Christian High School did something similar. They have an extended lunch hour/study hall/common time where students can take advantage of dropping in to see a teacher and get some “just-in-time” assistance.

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