Show and tell

Rachel left a comment yesterday that got me thinking. She said, “I think my students know that I care about them and want them to do well...but I'm just not as gregarious as [another teacher] is, so they gravitate towards her. I'm coming to terms with this.”

It sucks to feel that you aren't as well-liked as other teachers. Which I know, because that was totally how I felt during my first year teaching; Ms. Reading was way more popular than I was, for a variety of reasons, and it was really discouraging for a while. But I managed to change that, especially this year. I think this happened for two reasons: the first was that I became more explicit in talking to them about why I do what I do, and why it matters, because everything I do (or almost everything – nobody's perfect) is to help them succeed. The second was that I showed them by giving them my time. Explaining and demonstrating that to them changed the tenor in my room dramatically.

When I think about when that happened, two main moments come into my mind. I'll write about the second in a different post, but the first was right before winter break. My kids tend to fall apart a bit before long holidays because their home lives aren't all very secure, so they start acting out and being even bigger whack jobs than usual. I'd been cracking down on the behavior because I wasn't willing to let my classes completely unravel just because they were going to have two weeks away; frankly, if home is unsafe, they need school to be that much safer. But because of that, none of us were enjoying class as much as usual.

The Wednesday night before winter break started, I spent two hours baking cookies – nothing complicated, shortbread spread with chocolate, and small, a little bigger than one of the old half dollar coins. I made 150, enough for each of my kids and a few extra for others who might ask.

The next day, I gave each student a cookie on their way into class. I didn't let them bite in right away; they had to wait. We used the cookies for a warm up on sensory details, and then I talked to them about the other reason I'd made them cookies.

I told them that I knew I'd been pretty strict recently and that class had been difficult at times. I talked about why, that I was worried about the behaviors I'd seen and we still had a lot of work to do that we couldn't get through when people were being obnoxious, and so I couldn't have that going on. But, I added, that didn't mean I didn't care about them. I said that I loved them all and I wanted them to succeed because they deserved that. I told them that I wanted them to have every chance in life to do whatever they wanted, that it was my job to help them get there and that I felt so lucky to have that opportunity to help them. I explained that I didn't enjoy being so strict, but that I'd enjoy it even less if they someday were limited in their options because they hadn't learned enough to succeed, and so we were going to learn as much as possible together, and if I had to be strict to get there, so be it.

I said that was why I had spent two hours baking them cookies to eat and to use in class; I wanted to remind them that I loved them but that they needed an education to be successful.

I truly believe that being so explicit with them helped tremendously. They got it. They understood exactly what I meant.

But I also believe that the additional time I put into them by baking cookies helped. It wasn't monetarily expensive to make the cookies but it did take time that is outside of my contract hours, and the kids know that's a valuable commodity. My kids might know that better than most, in fact; my kids don't come from families in which the world revolves around their adolescent schedules. My kids have parents with two jobs, sometimes at night, younger brothers and sisters who need caretaking, families who can't or won't drive them to sports practices, finances that won't allow for piano or swimming lessons. So my kids know that when someone takes time out of their day to do something for someone else, that matters.

I know that I don't have the same encumbrances on my time that teachers with families do; I'm married, but I don't have my own children yet, and my husband is very understanding when I stay late. I understand that everyone has to make their own decisions about priorities. But I see how much it matters to them when I'm there, I see the light in their eyes when they see me and the glow on their faces as they bashfully shrug off my congratulations afterward. So I go to after school events – band concerts, basketball games, spelling bees. Not all of them, but I go to at least one type of each event that I have kids in. Again, everyone has their own priorities, but for me, this has really helped.

Tomorrow I'll write about the other time that really solidified us as a family.

(Photo credit to The Scott)


Rachel said...

Thanks for your thoughtful response! :)

I am not very overt in verbal affections (I'm more of an "Actions speak louder than words" kinda gal...and I forget that with teenagers, you have to be OBVIOUS), so that's something worth noting - a new challenge for me :)

I DO know I am guilty of not going to their functions often enough. Do you live close to your school? I live about 20-25 minutes away, and by the time I get home I want to relax. Driving BACK to school to go to a game, etc. is the last thing I wanna do (especially since hubby nor I really enjoy watching sports! haha) Excuses, excuses, right? Still, another challenge for me this year!

teachin' said...

I live 15 miles from my school - in good traffic, it's about 20 minutes, in bad, 30 to 40 (the worst ever was an hour and a half - that sucked). So I hear you about getting home and being done.

Honestly, when I go to stuff, I just don't go home, because if I did, I wouldn't go back out. I stay and grade or plan, or occasionally run errands if I have any that are close. Our events start anywhere between 4:30 and 7, and we get out at 3:45, so it's not TERRIBLE to stick around (okay, the 7 ones hurt a bit). And again, I can do this because my life is pretty free of encumbrances - I'm sure this will change once I have kids and have day care worries. But for now, I enjoy seeing them do something they love, so I think it's worth it.

"I'm a dreamer but I ain't the only one Got problems but we love to have fun" -K'naan, "Dreamer"

I teach eighth grade Language Arts at an urban school. My kids kick ass and will change the world. I want everyone to know.
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