Hey teacher, you want to reach me then you have to see me. That is the anthem that our students are desperately trying to get us to hear. In a time where data, research, test scores, and labels have become the means to our ends, have we forgotten who we are really here to serve. Teachers care about kids. But have we missed the boat a little, or maybe all together, on what should really be our focus. Have we lost what really matters in our efforts to maintain our data as advanced. Data, research, new instructional techniques, technology, are all important and are the gifts of many educators. However, the key is the connection. A teacher can be a connection to life. It is in the connection that students become free to reach heights unimaginable.
I am not the best with the whole Pedagogy thing.
I stand firm in my beliefs because the research has come from my own experience in my classrooms, it has been something I have witnessed time and time again. It is my natural gift to be able to connect with young people. Having said that, it does not mean it is always easy. It all comes down to our perceptions and allowing ourselves to see what is really there. I am not the best with organization, the newest teaching strategies, the whole Pedagogy thing. Many teachers around me are and I try to learn all I can to be better in those areas, which I am weak. But no matter where our strengths and weaknesses lie, without real, honest, vulnerable connection with our students they will not reach the levels of success they are capable of.
We titled the file “crap”.
At the end of last school year I had another teacher help me with a tad of organization. I had a million icons on my desktop, hey it looked pretty to me. They informed me that I could put those in files and they would be easier to find. A novel idea for someone who really is technology afraid so therefore will not learn. I made it simple for her and I had her put them all into one file. We titled the file “crap”. Which is exactly my perception of technology. That perception keeps me from seeing the great things I could learn and integrate into my classroom. It is not what I see, it is how I see it.
Does not mean we are prejudiced, it means we are human.
How do you see your students? Do you see data, test scores, labels, status, race, religion? To some degree we all do. Be honest with yourself, we have perceptions based upon what we have experienced, read, seen, during our lifetimes and it will influence us initially. Does not mean we are prejudiced, it means we are human. The key is to look past what we think we see and value what makes up each and everyone of our kids. Do not identify them or let them identify themselves with a label or as a statistic. All they really want is for you to see them for who they are and not what a number or a file tells you they can or cannot do. All they want is you to relate to them, to be real with them, to CONNECT with them.
Lastly, I LISTEN!
There are several things that I believe can help any teacher connect even deeper with their students. Being real, being vulnerable, and really listening to your students is what builds the bridge for you to meet in the middle and drive them to extraordinary success. I relate my life experiences to classroom situations on a daily basis. I let the kids see me as “ME” and not just their teacher. In relating those experiences, I do not sugar coat it unless it professionally calls to do so. I become vulnerable, I even cry in front of them when I am moved by what is being shared. Lastly, I listen! I let them express themselves. Telling me how unfair the dress code is and all their reasons for thinking so. I come to the same conclusion all other teachers do. Those are the rules that we have so that is what we are responsible to do. It is in the manner we get there that makes all the difference. In listening to them it allows them to know I hear and value what they feel and believe. Does not mean I agree but the point is enhancing our connection.
It was not because I was easy, or was just the “fun teacher”.
In compiling notes, letters, and emails from students over the years I have come up with a list of things that have been key for me in connecting with my students. It is that connection that always allowed my students to achieve as good, if not better, than the students of other teachers I worked with. I knew many of them were superior in the art of teaching, instructional styles, technology but they found it hard to connect. It was not because I was the easy, or just the “fun teacher”. It was because I put my real effort into looking past perceptions and seeing who they really were. I was real and vulnerable in relating to them and I listened.
- Be interested and available – Listen and hear what they have to say.
- Be relevant – relate to life in real ways, show an interest in what they like.
- Find and focus on strengths – Not only theirs put yours also.
- Develop a sense of family- Help them to feel included and valued.
- Celebrate success – Praise them in private.
- Capture their heart by giving them yours – Show you really care and they matter to you.
As a teacher I was the worst, I flat out sucked.
In a very unorthodox way I was convinced just how important the connections were. During the years that I began to succumb to addiction and alcoholism my teaching obviously suffered greatly. I missed 47 days of school before spring break in the last year I taught still active in my addiction. I had lost my home, my car, my kid but by the grace of God I did not lose my job. Even in that dark moment of life it was the students who were keeping me out of a coffin. They were the last remaining speck of light that shone as hope and purpose in my life. I poured whatever heart and soul I had left that year into those kids. Missing that much school, feeling like death, teaching so very poorly my kids still scored the same if not better than the other classes in my school. As a teacher I was the worst, I flat out sucked. It was the connection that made all the difference. Usually a teacher is the connection to life, that year the students were my connection to life.
It was a stroke of drunk luck that helped me to see the true purpose and calling on my life.
Let me say I do not advocate drinking yourself almost to death as a way to produce great test score results. I am not only lucky to still be doing what my passion is for work but to be alive. It was a stroke of drunk luck that helped me to see the true purpose and calling on my life. My point is the key to us rising our students out of their own personal darkness and to the light of a fulfilled life is our connection with them. This is not to say to all the wonderful teachers out there, and I work with the best, that all the strategies, research, data, technology are not important because they are. I must get better at the art of Pedagogy, the art of teaching, that will only enhance the power of the connection that I make with my kids. Increase your connection with your kids and watch out. The sky will be no limit as to what they can achieve.
But be ready, the connection will also change YOU!
As we head into this new school year, let us be aware of perceptions and how they can affect our ability to connect. Let us look past what we see on the surface to what is really there in each one of our students. Be real in relating to them. Let down the teacher walls and be vulnerable with them, make yourself human. But most importantly, LISTEN. They just want to know they can trust you. That they really matter to you, that you value them. That you see and hear them for who they are. As teachers we have the ability to change lives. It is the teacher’s purpose and passion. But be ready, the connection will also change YOU!