I'm baaaaack. Yup, it's another TeachThought Reflective Teacher blogging challenge, so of course I'm going to participate. I've been trying to keep up the blog by posting at least three times a week, but I liked forcing myself to find the good in each day, even on the bad ones. So here we are.
Instead of talking aspects today, I'm just going to talk about one. The main reason why I keep coming back year after year, and why even at the worst of times I can't quite imagine leaving the classroom to do something else: relationships with students. The hands-down best part of my job is that I get to create meaningful relationships with young adults every day. Some of them are disastrous: I know there are kids who will remember me as a teacher they couldn't stand, and that's okay. I'm not everyone's cup of tea. But for some kids I might be something more, someone they really need at this point in their lives, and that's both a serious responsibility and the best feeling in the world.
This is the bulletin board that sits directly above my desk, so it's the board I use for myself instead of class stuff. Reminders, schedules, happy thoughts: that's what belongs here. Sometimes students still give me their school pictures, but at the middle school level that's pretty rare because they're too cool, the photos are too embarrassing, etc. Notice anything about the photos?
There's an 8x10 in the middle of my board. Let's acknowledge for a second that it's the greatest school picture ever taken and that my student demanded that he be able to wear his headphones, while also refusing to smile and instead giving the ultimate cool guy glare. And then he gave me an 8x10 instead of a wallet size to put on my board. How could I say no?
This is a kid who I have a great teacher/student relationship with. I appreciate his unique point of view and his outspokenness, his strength in standing out from the crowd. He embraces who he is and does not compromise his beliefs to fit in. He's smart and funny. He also gets in trouble with other teachers, and has arguments with other students. A lot. He's gotten in trouble in my class many times, too. I've frequently had to scold him or cut him off for being inappropriate in some way. But we still have a great relationship because I respect him, and I'm pretty sure he respects me. We have a lot of similarities in personality, and while I agree when he's been a problem, I also stick up for him whenever I can.
The late, great Rita Pierson came and spoke to our district a few years ago. Her words will always be part of my core values as a teacher: "Every child deserves a champion: an adult who will never give up on them, who understands the power of connection and insists they become the best they can possibly be." This kid is one of the kids I think about when I think about that connection. I am his champion when I need to be. It's not that he's missing an adult in his life: he has amazing parents and grandparents in his life. But I might be the only teacher on his side sometimes, and I take that seriously.
There are many other students I have strong relationships with, stronger than the one with 8x10 kid. That doesn't make him any more or less important than the rest of them. As a writing teacher, I am so lucky to be able to get to know my students the way I do, and I know that helps create strong relationships.
It's hard sometimes to let students go when you've had a connection with them. I see kids who are in high school now, who shared their thoughts and fears with me when I was their teacher, and now we haven't spoken in years. I used to feel guilt. Is it my fault? Should I have tried to keep in touch? Do they feel bitter that I didn't maintain an active role in their life? I'm getting over that as I get older. My former students know where I am, they know where to find me, they know I'm always here, even if we haven't spoken in years. Those who need me a little more still come back and talk when they need to. Those who don't, don't. I will still be their champion regardless.
Creating those relationships and nurturing the kids who show me that they need me: that's the best part of being a teacher.
I teach 7th and 8th grade English in rural Iowa and hope to reflect, connect, and share with other English teachers. Iowa Council of Teachers of English Executive Board member. Iowa Writing Project superfan. UNI MA:TESS graduate.