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Teachers work to forge positive relationships with students

Junior David Seelentag said he can talk to St. Charles East High School teacher Tom Straiker about anything.

The same goes for senior Rachel Radtke and Batavia High School teacher Marnie Heim.

"A lot of people reach out to their friends, but to have that different perspective is a bonus," said Radtke, 17.

These are just two examples of Kane County students who have forged positive relationships with their teachers. Making connections with students is something teachers work on throughout the school year. Educators said students who feel a sense of belonging are more likely to be invested in their schoolwork.

School officials also want to make sure that students can go to teachers if they ever are struggling with personal issues. That's one message that St. Charles North High School emphasized this year during its Suicide Prevention Week in February. An assembly planned for that week included a video featuring staff members talking about how they care for students.

As an English teacher and Batavia High School Key Club faculty adviser, Heim makes sure her students know she cares about them and is accessible beyond the classroom.

"They can always get in contact with me; they know how to reach me," Heim said.

One year, a Key Club member did reach out to Heim about a friend's eating disorder. Heim had her speak with a school counselor and the friend received the help she needed.

Students said they become closest to teachers whom they also see through extracurricular activities. The club environment definitely helps, said Straiker, who is the St. Charles East Auto Club adviser and a technical education teacher. The club on Feb. 27 and March 1 hosted its fifth Labor for Lazarus House event, which involved working on cars and then donating the cost of the labor.

Straiker said one of the ways he tries to connect with students is to be real with them and avoid being somebody's he's not. Katie Bradac, a Geneva Middle School North art teacher, tries to personalize her assignments and in some cases have the students write an explanation of their pieces.

"I think I connect with them in a different way because they are more vulnerable in their artwork," Bradac said of her students. "I get to see a different side of them."

Teachers and students each agreed that there can be limitations to connecting purely through standard classroom instruction. Seelentag, 16, said it helps when there are interactive activities at school where everyone has the opportunity to share. That way the students learn about their teachers, and vice versa, he said.

For the students not involved in clubs or invested in class, teachers like Heim still try to connect with students through their interests. She gave the example of asking students what music they listen to on their headphones during passing periods.

"The more teachers you talk to, the more opinions you get," Straiker said. "Most will agree that honesty and respect for the students is the main thing, and that helps you grow your relationship with them."

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