Guest Contributor: Essie Childers, professor of student success and developmental reading at Blinn College

Five minutes equals three hundred seconds. I pondered for a moment to make a list of how many things I do that would only take five minutes. The list was quite extensive. To name a few, you can check a few emails, make a phone call, grade one or two objective tests, or photocopy a few papers. Looking over the brief list above, it takes about five minutes to do each task.  What if you had a five-minute, personal conversation with each of your students?

Five-minute exit interview

Near the end of the semester, I have a “Five-Minute Exit Interview” with my students. During this interview, I give them an opportunity to reflect on the semester in my class and their other classes. Afterwards, I elaborate on their performance in my class and offer words of encouragement as they move on to the next chapter of their academic journey.

Of course, I always have a treat for them—cookies, fruit, or chips. As I listen to their responses, I am continually amazed of how students are juggling school, work, and their social activities.

As you know, many students are working 30-45 hours a week and taking 12-15 hours. Some students have to contribute to their parent’s house mortgage. Then, too, there are students who do not have to work, unfocused, and drifting from major to major.

There are so many scenarios and challenges for today’s students. For those students juggling work and school, I ask, “How is that working for you?” The response 100% of the time is, “It is not going well.” It is very difficult for students to experience success with a heavy class and work load.

Teachable moments

Five minutes can create a teachable moment to gently make a suggestion about making wise choices. According to author Skip Downing in his book, On Course: Strategies for Creating Success in College and in Life, 7th Edition, the main ingredient in all success is making wise choices. Every semester presents many “forks in the road” in which students have to make a choice. A faculty member can help guide students in the right direction by listening, being nonjudgmental, and suggesting other resources that maybe unknown to the student. (3)

Faculty members are not only the instructor of record, but also cheerleaders, encouragers, motivators, and guideposts. We are the guardians of the students of the twenty-first century. At the end of one semester, Brenda (pseudo) visited with me after class to thank me for taking time to listen to her story and offering her words of encouragement.

I did not know that Brenda and her son, lived in her car during the semester for two weeks. I wish I did know, but at that time, she chose not to share that with anyone. However, what I said to her in those five minutes in my office encouraged her to persist and not drop her classes. I am happy to say that Brenda has completed her studies at Blinn and is working in the health field.

Step away from the learning outcomes on your syllabus to visit with your students. You may be the guidepost to help keep a student on course in school and in their personal life. One can never underestimate the value of five minutes.

Essie Childers is a professor of student success and developmental reading at Blinn College in Bryan, Texas, USA. She also serves as consultant to the American Adjunct Educators Association.

Reference: Downing, Skip. On Course: Strategies for Creating Success in College and in Life. (2014). Boston: Wadsworth, Cengage Learning.

What about you? Share your five-minute encounters with students that possibly made a difference in their class performance or goal achievement.