Being a teacher is not easy. We all know that. We face obstacles in and out of the classroom that can make the actual act of pedagogy quite difficult. At the core of those obstacles, nonetheless, is the fact that at the end of the day, the influence that we have on at least one child each day will last a lifetime, and if educators holdfast to that fact, the difficult moments will be bearable.
The quote above has been attributed to Theodore Roosevelt, I’m not sure how true that is, but the adage is one that we should all live by, especially teachers. We should look at the students and their families as clients. In order for our clients to effectively work with us, we need to get them to buy in. Before they can trust our skill set and knowledge, they need to believe our intentions are genuine. How do we achieve that?
Having taught for ten years, I found my greatest success in being a human before being the teacher, nurse, mom, disciplinarian, and Superhero I was expected to be. What does that exactly look like?
For starters: Let the students know from the get-go what your intentions and goals are and how you plan on helping them achieve those goals. Explicitly let your students know that you are all learners in the classroom, and just like them, you will make mistakes. Welcome the mistakes and treat them as magical moments, but take time to explain to the students that from our mistakes are where our greatest learnings happen. Purposely make mistakes, or make it look like it was on purpose. Often times, while teaching my 5th graders fractions or the convoluted partial quotients method, I would make REAL mistakes and I loved when my students caught them, corrected them, and were able to explain where I went wrong. They not only felt empowered because they did not have to fear questioning the authoritative figure in the room, but rather they felt respected.
Another way to relate to your scholars is by being honest, as well as taking the time to get to know them and allowing students to get to know you. Share childhood anecdotes, let them know when you agree with something they deem unfair and teach them to be solution-driven, listen to their music or watch the shows they do. It’s not about being the “cool” teacher necessarily, but about being the teacher that they know is hard on them because you refuse to let them fail. Invest time at the beginning of the school year, before the pressure of standardized tests and data chats set in, to establish a sense of trust in the classroom. Get the kids as well as their families to buy into you as a person. They know you have the credentials to be there, however as in any job, it’s not what you know, but how you make the people around you feel. And that will stick with them forever.
Unfortunately for our teachers and students, in today’s data-driven educational climate, so much focus and pressure are put on tests, and a lot of time is taken away from building the classroom community. Nonetheless, if that time is invested at the beginning of the school year to build the relationship with your students, what will flourish is teachers and students excited to learn, work and reap the benefits. Those successes will last a lifetime with the students and the teacher as well.