Monday, January 19, 2015

Showing That You Care

I have a student teacher this semester and while I am always reflective, I find that having a student teacher makes me even more so. I begin to notice what I do and, conversely, pause to consider why I do that. I think when you’ve taught for as long as I do, things do become rote. I know what works, I know what doesn’t. Even with the new CCSS looming over us, I know where fifth graders need to be, what they need to learn. So much of what I do is automatic, but there is a lot of intention behind every action. It is in the act of teaching someone else to do this that I realize how much thought goes into it. And in explaining what I do, I tend to get a bit emotional.

Such was the case last week. It was a typical lesson in language arts, nothing remarkable about it. I know it was my homeroom class, but that’s about all I remember about the lesson. It isn’t the content that made the day remarkable at all, it was an offhand comment. A boy in my class had made a poor choice—nothing to write home about, just an easy mistake. I smiled at him, ruffled his hair, and said, “You know I love you right…”

He grinned and said, “Yeah.”

I looked him in the eye and said, “So…”

He looked at the floor, back at me, and simply said, “Sorry, I screwed up.”

I gave him a half hug and asked the kids to line up for lunch.

I remember looking at my student teacher and wondering what she thought about the interaction. I definitely could have done more, but there was no real need. Our relationship at this point of the year is pretty strong, and I don’t feel the need to talk a lot when fewer words will do. But, in looking at my student teacher, I knew I needed to point something out.

I asked her if she noticed that I told my students I love them. She smiled and said she heard it a lot. And then I shared my story.

It was a story about a boy I taught in my early years here; a boy that struggled with attendance, behavior, academics, you name it. That boy told me something one day, in an offhand comment, that nearly broke me. It was before I had kids, before I was moved to tears by a quick word or comment. He told me I was the only one in his life, the only one, who ever told him I loved him. I still remember looking him in the eyes and not breaking the gaze, even though I am certain tears were spilling over. I asked him if he thought I meant it. He looked back and said, “I know you do.”

And that cemented it. From that moment on I made sure every single kid knew I cared about them from the moment they stepped into our classroom. The ones that were quiet, the ones that were easy, and – most especially – the ones that were tough. They all need to hear it, because we cannot count on it happening at home.

Student teachers have to absorb so much in our time together. I told mine that her first priority, before we even begin to talk about curriculum, is to build relationships with every single child in our classroom. She is off to an amazing start.

If you want to read more on this line of thinking, here are two great posts to get you started…

Leigh Anne Eck writes about making sure students know they matter. 

Momastery writes about a teacher in her child’s life.