What is Teacher Immediacy?

What if your students’ college success depends on you? Not the collective “you”, but the specific, personal, individual you?

What if you could raise your students’ high school grades retroactively? What if you could raise the scores of their entrance exams? What if you could make them better prepared for college success?

This is crazy. It’s impossible to raise your students’ scores or grades from high school. As predictors of college success, they are important college entrance requirements, but there is nothing you can do about them. True, but there is one more factor that is just as significant in predicting student success; one not considered by admissions.

You can cultivate it. You can foster it. You can bring it every day, because it literally is you.

It’s your time, your attention, your encouragement; not just in class, but before, after, in your office, and the hall. It is at the department picnic and the student club meeting.

Simply being available for your students and talking to them about academics and other interests directly affects their motivation to learn, to dream, and to envision themselves as a professional in their chosen field.5 This motivation is as strong a predictor of collegiate success as is high school academics or aptitude with entrance exams. But this is the one predictor you can change.

In a nutshell:
Teacher immediacy is any action that closes a perceived gap between instructor and student; physically and psychologically.

Why bother?
Teacher immediacy increases both intrinsic and extrinsic student motivation.5 This increases student performance and their satisfaction with the teacher.

Efforts by instructors of online courses to close the social distance between students and themselves show the same results.2

The how-to guide:

  • Start with the syllabus. The warmer the tone, the more approachable the instructor is perceived. Try, “I welcome you to contact me” rather than “If you need to contact me.”4 Invite students to use your first name.
  • Arrive early and stay late, if possible. Take this time to chat with each of your students and show a personal interest in them.
  • During class, move around, make eye contact, and call on students by name.

History lesson:
Janis Anderson, a scholar in education communication, identified teacher immediacy in 1971 as, “those nonverbal behaviors that reduce physical and/or psychological distance between teachers and students.”1 This has since been examined in numerous studies of teacher communication and behavior both in and out of class.

The bottom line:
The more approachable and trustworthy a teacher is perceived, the more motivated students are to learn and the better students rate instructors.

While we are on the subject of improving students’ rating of their instructors, consider checking out The Transformed Teacher’s tips on how to properly sift through and apply student feedback  and The Grizzled Teacher’s view on assessment and evaluation.



  1. Andersen, J. F. (1979). Teacher immediacy as a predictor of teaching effectiveness. Annals of the International Communication Association, 3(1), 543-559.
  2. Arbaugh, J. B. (2001). How instructor immediacy behaviors affect student satisfaction and learning in web-based courses. Business Communication Quarterly, 64(4), 42-54.
  3. Christophel, D. M., & Gorham, J. (1995). A test‐retest analysis of student motivation, teacher immediacy, and perceived sources of motivation and demotivation in college classes. Communication education, 44(4), 292-306.
  4. Harnish, R. J., & Bridges, K. R. (2011). Effect of syllabus tone: Students’ perceptions of instructor and course. Social Psychology of Education14(3), 319-330.
  5. Komarraju, M., Musulkin, S., & Bhattacharya, G. (2010). Role of student–faculty interactions in developing college students’ academic self-concept, motivation, and achievement. Journal of College Student Development, 51(3), 332-342.

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About the author:

Michael Vosburg is a Ph.D. student in Communication, and is a journalist of 29 years.

Vosburg’s research interest is in the processes of visual communication.



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