Whew, I’m back!

I’ve been on hiatus for a few months as I coached our high school speech team. As I do most years, I have the best of intentions to keep posting during this time, but I always underestimate the amount of energy speech season requires (typically leaving me in zombie mode by the time I arrive home).

I’ve also been doing a LOT of reading of research associated with my doctoral program, and every once in a while, something hits me.

Today, it was a big hit; it’s called third space.

This is the hybrid space in the doorframe of your classroom, in the hallway, or on the fringe of your classroom. It’s where you and your students communicate and interact on a more social level before class or before the bell rings. And according to Deborah Bieler, it’s a vitally important (and oft overlooked) opportunity to build relationships with students.

In her book The Power of Talk, Bieler discusses how our interactions with students each push toward attrition or retention of a student. Most of the time, we think about teacher/student communication as a formal exchange during class time or in conferences. However, Bieler points out that the quality of our interactions in third space can be just as essential in building a relationship with a student and ultimately building that student’s desire to stay in school.

There have been years where I’ve tried to teach to the last minute, or keep students working until the last minute. Even two weeks ago, I wondered if I should start reading poems or a book aloud for the last few minutes of class.

These aren’t bad ideas, except that I now realize what the loss would be: spending this third space time with my students.

In my school, the students tend to line up near the door at the end of the period. It’s the only high school I’ve taught at where this happens. Also, it’s a pet peeve of mine.

But lately, I’ve started to use the time to stand there with them. I’ve used the opportunity to strike up conversations–What are you doing this weekend? How’s track practice going? How’s the new car treating you?  And when we have those conversations, we can all relax. We’re not talking about assignments or writing or what we’re doing in class tomorrow. Instead, we’re connecting on a personal level.

No longer will I feel guilt if I don’t start class immediately with the bell because I was busy talking to students, nor will I feel bad if we end up chatting the last few minutes of class. I’m busy building relationships, which is the #1 job any teacher should have.