Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Slice Five - Relationships

 Slice of Life is sponsored every Tuesday by Stacey and Ruth from Two Writing Teachers. For the month of March we are challenging ourselves to write a Slice A Day.

 “What is truly important in life is not what we look like or how we are made but the relationships and encounters through which we come to know ourselves and become known to others.” – Shields, 2009

A former principal always used to commend my classroom management style when he would evaluate me. He said my students seemed to want to do well in my class. He’d comment on how few problems I had in the classroom. After a few years, I realized he’d place kids in my class that had a “reputation” before hitting my room. (Usually active boys.) When I asked about it once he said he knew I’d love them no matter what, and that was what they needed.

I thought about that today. I had so many comments coming in throughout the day on the slice I had just posted, on wanting to ensure my students are “seen.” And the quiet kids can hide easily. But I think it is just as important to “see” the other kids too.

I teach in a tiny town, in a tiny school. When my students come to me, often their reputation precedes them. I try and tell my students that in this classroom, they have the opportunity to be whoever they want to be. At first, some don’t believe me. Don’t I know who they are? I tell them I don’t; I only know what they show me. For many it finally “clicks” and they take off.

As I was leaving school today I ran into a high school student I had been fortunate to teach in fourth grade. He was one who came with a reputation. I knew he struggled academically. I knew he had some behavior issues in third grade. I knew that I had to look up when I wanted to talk to him, he already towered above me.

I greeted him and quickly asked what he was reading. He looked at me, grinned, and replied, “The Odyssey.” I looked at him in surprise and asked why he selected that book. It’s assigned – but, he assured me, he actually likes it. We talked about the book – how it can be confusing but he’s following it now. I shared I had a terrific graphic novel version by Gareth Hinds. He asked if he could come by after school and grab it. I asked if he was still writing as much as he used to. He told me he does when he can.

Leaving him and getting in the car I couldn’t help but think of the ten-year-old boy I knew. Angry, struggling, lost. That’s not the teen I just spoke to. He changed in my room. While I’d love to take the credit for that – to say it was my teaching, I know it wasn’t. I loved that kid. Still do. He was a unique and funny individual. What I think allowed him to become who he is was that he had a teacher that he knew loved him. Simple.

I’m not saying it’s always easy, but I work hard to get to know all of my students. Some are easy. Some keep me up late at night as I worry about them. How can I reach them? What do I need to change about myself?

So not only do I want my quiet kids to know that I see them, that I care about them. I want my loud kids, my troublemakers, my exasperating students to feel seen. They need to know how much I care about them too.

Seeing this boy in the hall was just a lasting reminder of what we can do. As teachers we have the chance to make an impact that lasts a lifetime. In my opinion, the way to get students to grow to their fullest potential all has to do with relationships. It is my belief that when students feel comfortable, cared for, and accepted for who they are – then they will grow. They will reach and take chances, just like this student did so many years ago.

Driving home, I smiled. I remember seeing him his first summer after sixth grade at the pool. We had just gotten out for the summer. I kept track of him all through fifth grade, and knew he had done well, but couldn’t see him regularly once he left my building. He jogged over to me at the pool and quickly gave me a bear hug. I asked how he did in sixth that year and he grinned. Honor Roll all year – and once, high honor roll.

We high fived and I looked at him and said, “I KNEW you could do it!”

He looked at me, smiled, and said, “I know you did.”

That’s all I am ever looking for. Not the highest test scores. Not the straight A’s. I want my students to know I love them, that I see them, and that I accept them for who they are. It is then, I think, that we will see what they can become.