Day 4: What do you love the most about teaching?
A few years ago I had the opportunity to watch my first class of students graduate from high school. As each of them walked across the stage to receive their diploma, I found myself in a state of awe. Each one had grown into a beautiful person, individual and unique. I had played a small part in helping them get across that stage. Now, as I see them in the community and ask them how they are doing, what they are doing, how their families are I find myself inspired to continue on my path. I have made a small but significant difference in the lives of students I have taught. Teachers change lives and although there are many significant issues facing education, I teach to change lives.
At the beginning of one school year, at a new school, I was “warned” about a specific student and his family. This student was a non-attender, struggled with anxiety and had several behavior problems. I was told that his family enabled and allowed his behavior. I decided early to determine my own judgments about the student and his family. I knew I could become an advocate for this student. I remember the initial meeting with the family and the boy’s psychologist as being slightly tense. I listened to the concerns presented by the boy’s parents and his psychologist. I asked respectful questions about his diagnosis and the recommendations for the school. We developed a collaborative plan during this meeting that we hoped would help him attend school successfully. I spent the first month working closely with this boy and his family. I spent time getting to know what he liked about school, what he did not like and what he liked outside of school. I spent time developing a positive, trusting relationship with him. We joked, laughed and had fun playing practical jokes on our vice principal. I spent a lot of time defending him and advocating for his needs to the other staff members. Staff had done a great job of establishing an unfair, preconceived opinion about this boy. I reminded them, sometimes daily, he is a child, he is a student and he has a right to be in a safe and caring environment. I explained how his learning differs from “normal” students due to his various diagnoses. I would re-explain his plan for success to each staff member who would question me. He knew he could come to me for help with his anxiety, his schoolwork or just to chat about his day. By the second month, he was successfully coming to school every day for an hour. By Christmas he was attending school for a half day, every day. He knew that we cared; we would listen and he felt safe. He was even able attend a couple of full school days, but consistently attended half days for the whole school year, a task he has never been able to achieve. This boy and his family are proud of his achievements, and we are so very proud of him.
I love that I can teach with compassion! Genuine caring is vital for success with students. I hold strong beliefs about the power of building positive relationships with students and families. I can demonstrate compassion in small, but meaningful ways, teaching children each day how to think, how to problem solve and how to move beyond what they know. I will continue to teach and lead with a genuine and compassionate heart. I will watch more students cross the stage to receive their diploma and remind myself, I played a small, but significant part of that.