Prior to the pandemic, people knew that making connections with others are powerful. People often want to be known. Really known. While many are afraid of rejection over the parts they don’t like about themselves, we still crave connection and true, unconditional understanding. From the first time a baby comes into the world and reacts to a loving touch or look, we all keep looking for genuine relationships with others.
As a teacher, it’s been hard in many ways. We’ve been in remote, in hybrid and soon, in-person. Making connections with our students, for most of us, is one of the biggest joys of our careers. We love what we teach, but we love who we teach much more.
Making those genuine relationships that make our students shine and grow knowing they are safe, are understood and are able to grow in the environment of that teacher’s classroom is magical. As this school year approached, so many of us educators worried about how we might make true, deep connections in a world that had shifted dramatically, no matter what might come next.
I love getting to know others and making connections that are real, whether they are momentary moments with a stranger in a store or ones that last for decades. As a teacher, it is a huge part of how I learn about my students, earn their trust and help them through the rollercoaster rides of going through the middle school years.
I love being real with them, and in turn, they all reciprocate in so many wondrous ways.
For example, a student who I had last year, could barely speak to me. Extremely shy, I never witnessed them even talk to other students. It was so hard to build a relationship with this student and know if I was connecting. Then, this very student took my creative writing class again this year.
Guess what? The student has been talking to me!
After I shared how very thrilled I was to take my class again after not knowing if I had any sort of impact on him, the response was, “You did. You definitely did. You never gave up on me, even when I wanted to give up.” Not only has the talking continued, but this amazing person shares more and more of themself through the writing we do.
Whew! That’s the power of connection.
Another student I have had the pleasure to know and teach this year, through one of my remote classes, was one with whom I have a great relationship. However, while trying to hide it, I saw subtle shifts lately. The work ethic didn’t change, but something was wrong.
When I saw that they had missed some days this week, which rarely happen, I sent an email to connect.
My Subject: EVERYTHING OK?
My simply message was, “I know you’ve missed classes this week. Is everything okay?”
Not only did a response arrive rather quickly, but it was followed by sharing all that caused the absences and what I probably noticed when in class this week. Then, at the end, “I will be at school tomorrow! I really appreciate you and everything you done for me!! I look forward to seeing you and thank you for trying to make that connection. It means a lot. ”
In remote, during a pandemic, this student has still thrived in huge ways and is even entering my student leadership training program. Relationships are not just maintained when we are with each other but also when we are not able to be together. What we do through the harder moments often speaks far greater to another’s heart, when they need it most.
Over my twenty years of teaching, I have seen a huge rise in mental health issues among more and more of our young people. For anyone to trust and share about this, it can be extremely difficult and sometimes, tragic.
Year after year, these students often confide in me verbally, through their assignments or in emails. While I always do what I need to do to make sure they get the help needed, from the right people, it is those connections that helps them to still become their best selves in the midst of their middle school years. More importantly, having those connections mean they are seen, heard, understood and they still matter.
One of the biggest examples with a student who doesn’t see much worth in school, but is extremely intelligent and capable, happened today. While yes, my job is to help my students learn. Yet, as a human who knows that together we are better, we must look to help one another whenever possible.
I squatted down next to this student and simply asked, “Are you okay? You haven’t looked happy in a while.” For the first time, this student was the most real I’ve ever seen. They shared what they were struggling with the assignment. My response was from what I have noticed about this student, so I used that to provide the help needed. Not only did that shift his countenance in a good way, but he asked me for additional help. This, from a human who clearly doesn’t like being vulnerable, became so and even thanked me as the class left.
Whether our positive, genuine connections with others is small or large, they matter.
Whether our positive, genuine connections with others is in person, through a phone, a computer, or other virtual way, they matter.
Whether our positive, genuine connections with others lead to long lasting relationships or the two parties never see one another again, they matter.
We don’t need to always see the impacts of these moments.
If we learn how to connect in ways that are true, honest, fair, pure and meant for the good of those we encounter within the journeys of our lives, that most definitely MATTERS.
Know that you matter! There are others who see you, hear you, understand you and want to embrace you. Better yet, these people want to help you become the best YOU.
Trust isn’t easy, but when earned, it is an extremely powerful force in this world . . . before the pandemic, during and always will be.
Last spring, schools across the nation went remote. Not enough time to prepare. Everyone in shock from the pandemic.
What helped my school? Our culture. The environment that had been established way before life changed.
When life has ups and downs, the culture helps people to rise or fall.
Nothing was as good as it should have been. Not enough was known about much of anything, and I’m not just talking about education. A crisis of massive proportions arose across the globe, and we functioned as best we could.
Our principals and leadership met with groups of staff each week, so we stayed connected, made decisions and processed together and cared about one another. Culture.
Teachers taught, but we spent a lot of time having conversations with our students through video meetings, emails and phone calls. Culture.
Whether students or staff, we knew we could rely on one another. We knew to supply grace to each other. We knew we were a community and the culture helped us feel like not all was lost.
What said even more were families and students sending staff emails. They encouraged us. They asked if we were okay. They shared what we meant to them.
They supplied light back, because of the light we provided in darker times. A culture like that creates a safe place to function, no matter what.
Now, in a matter of days, our students will start the new school year. It most definitely will not be what it used to be, except for our culture.
Knowing that the cornerstone of our school is a community of learning while also teaching to the whole child, every child, we’ve been learning. Through the summer. Through extra professional development. Through our own feelings of what if what we’ve always known to do and what we’ve learned isn’t enough. Because our culture means we go above and beyond, always, because our students and their families matter. Details matter.
The pandemic hasn’t gone away. It’s why we changed from students either being remote or hybrid to all going remote to start. Culture we can still maintain, but without safety, it’s hard to learn and grow.
A school cannot have a culture that could take us through a pandemic time, without the right leadership. Principals who have led us with grace, understanding, realness and wisdom, even as they’ve made changes and admitted some of their own struggles through this process.
They’ve given us leadership roles to not only delegate, but to show their faith in us, even now.
They’ve given us time and shifted their original plans, so we could grow, but not break.
They had us make videos of ourselves so this year’s students and families can see us, hear us, and know how much we can’t wait to teach and to also support them all.
Even more powerful than all of that was having us email and call the families of those students who we will be with at the start of each day. We let them know what to expect so they’re not feeling nervous for the first day and beyond, for the students and their parents. To answer questions. But most of all, to help let out a breath, knowing we care enough to call and be there for them even before we have met their children. Culture.
On my end, I adored talking to students who were excited to hear from me. I realized how much I missed hearing the awkwardness of being the age of middle school kids. I soared when parents shared how happy they were to receive my call, how much better they felt and how supported they felt. But, what made my teacher heart fill to completion was getting emails from several of my new students asking me questions they had and then thanking me for my help.
CULTURE! We haven’t even started our first day together, but our culture’s base has already been laid down.
Our school’s vision is to engage, empower and excite our students to grow and learn. Without a building, through emails, calls and soon via video conferencing and other online tools, they will thrive. They will learn. They will feel supported.
And we will be their school community, doing what we know is best for them. Content, we already knew. Learning new ways to engage, empower and excite our 2020-2021 students is simply a part of being educators. What more we may need to move forward? Well, we will grow together, stronger and our culture will be even better than it’s ever been, no matter what life throws our way.
Dedicated to Blake Revelle, Tara Mahoney and our Amazing Knights Community. Love working with all of you!
Before I ever stepped foot in a school, my mom had already taught me the basics of how to read and write, among other useful life skills. She was amazing at what she did with me, as I discovered that her actions set me up for a love of learning and started me off, advanced for my age. Though she wasn’t an educator, she was to me. What my mother did in my life, in those young formative years, still impacts me and all of my students, to this day.
Through those experiences, I remember being a child, prepping my dolls, stuffed animals and my little sister for my favorite game of playing school. I would include books, paper, pencils and crayons to teach my sibling. At some point, an adult gave me an abacus, which fascinated me, and I added that to the learning process. Later, I would buy textbooks at garage sales to make my “classroom” more official.
My sister was my only human student during those times, and as I taught, I was enchanted by how she reacted. Her eyes would light up. She would look at me attentively and smile her big smile, especially as I encouraged her in her “lessons”. At first, it was truly a game. In time, as I saw that she was learning and grasping, the play time became a passion.
Then, during high school as I was talking with my father about what I wanted to do when I got into college, I told him emphatically that I was going to be a teacher. This turned into many conversations of other careers he tried to persuade me towards, as a way to earn more money than teachers make.
I told him, “Sure, I can choose those careers, but I cannot imagine not teaching. Yeah, the pay is far less than teachers deserve, but I want my life to make me happy and to make a difference. I know that money is important to live, but God has a way of making things work out when you do what you are meant to do, and I am meant to teach.”
Do I wish we were paid what we are worth, when what we do allows younger humans to be the next world changers? YES.
But, helping to create world changers and sending them forth is a gift that pays in ways most may never understand.
Teachers do what we do, to inspire.
After over twenty years of teaching, I still love what I do, very much. I know that I make a difference. Each year I have roughly 150 to 180ish students. To this day, that look on their faces when they “get it” and finally realize what they can do, when they trust themselves, when they realize they are already world changers who can continue on to make a difference, it still fills me with joy.
When a student gets ready to move on to the next grade, knowing what they want to be because of their experiences with me as their teacher, is worth far more than the money I get paid. As moments happen throughout the school year and they share their words or tokens of gratitude as a way to say, “Thank you! You were right. I am ________, and I’m so glad you believed in me,” it’s a humbling gift.
Whether we have these students for one year or more, they each become part of my “kids”. As they get older, they’ll stop by to visit from time to time. Later, as they have grown up into these amazing adults, they often reach out to me through social media to reconnect.
THEY INSPIRE ME. It is why teachers have a hard time not giving so much of ourselves, because every one of those humans’ lives are worth it.
Teachers do what we do, to help others be their best selves.
As I share a short period of my students’ lives with them, helping them to be the best people they can be, I know that some grew a little, some grew a good amount and some grew in leaps and bounds. They don’t all display it in the same way, but teachers become pretty good at reading each individual to see the signs of how far they have come.
We are forever grateful for the parents who do all they can to raise their kids and partner with their schools, so their children can thrive. We are thrilled when we have administrators and/or support staff of all kinds who are doing what they do, because of the kids. We are happy when we are shown that what we do and think matters.
This is why, during this pandemic, educators shifted gears drastically to educate and help our students during a very stressful time, as best we could. We appreciated hearing so much, by emails and social media that we don’t get what we deserve after parents realized how their kids can be when with them for longer periods of time and when they saw what they knew only we could do, like we do.
Now, as the time comes near for school to begin, it’s troubling when leaders don’t say the words or do what is right for the sake of students’, school staffs’ and our families’ lives.
You see? While we may not have even met our next group of students, we already care about them, like a parent waiting for their unborn child. We also care about our own families, even more deeply. To not even consider protecting any of them from the coronavirus is indefensible, but to not consider protecting us well enough means also hurting them.
Imagine a world without teachers.
For you see, “Teaching has transformed from a simple educational function into a complex profession. Teaching develops the minds of children and young adults, and prepares them to become worthwhile citizens of society. The history of teaching can be traced to Confucius (561 B.C.), who was the first famous private teacher. Many ancient Greeks hired private teachers to educate their children. In the Middle Ages, learning institutions such as Cambridge University were founded and teacher training became required.”
Beyond the time educators take to get their yearly professional development hours, we love learning and when we have our times off from teaching, we don’t shut down. We are constantly evolving into better versions of ourselves, just as we expect our students to do beyond our classroom. We couldn’t do anything less, if we are to do right by the generations that are entrusted to us, year after year.
We just wish, especially during these uncertain times, that more of our society made it clear how valued we are by doing what’s right by us, for the sake of our nation’s children.
Teachers do what we do to show others they are not alone.
One of the greatest skills and gifts we provide as teachers is the concept that we are not meant to do life all on our own. I see my students as individual humans, each with gifts they are barely aware may exist, to transform this world in the most phenomenal ways.
However, as kids get older, life tries to tell them they are not enough. That they shouldn’t let too many know who they really are and what they’re capable of, because as they try on those parts of themselves and stumble along the way. They make mistakes.
It’s like society forgets that in learning to talk, we start off babbling. While learning to walk, we trip, fall and pull ourselves back up. While learning to trust others, we often had a lot of trust instilled in us first, when we still lived most of our time in the bubbles of our homes.
It’s why I do all I can to instill in my students a sense of team. From day one to the last day of school, my students know that I believe in them and that mistakes are simply stepping stones to help you rise up through what you learned. As they recognize the sincerity in that every day reality of who they are, in my classroom while learning the subject matter, they are also learning to trust one another.
Rather than talking words of destruction, they are to speak words of life.
Rather than seeing someone struggle, they are to come alongside and offer assistance whenever able.
Rather than watch a person in pain, they are to get help or be the help.
Rather than tear down the gifts of another that they don’t possess, they are to celebrate the gifts others provide to help themselves and the rest of our little community.
For isn’t all of that what makes for a better society for the next generation? Isn’t that worth giving every consideration for the sake of our babies, our children, our teenagers and the adults who spend huge amounts of hours with them? Isn’t that worth valuing the families who sacrifice time with their educator partners/spouses and parents, because teaching consumes a lot of our time both in and outside of school?
As the pandemic continues, give school districts and teachers grace, by coming alongside your school districts.
The medical community does what they do, knowing that it could risk their lives. While teachers know they might have to protect their kids from an intruder, most educators are scared of returning to our school buildings, without being safe from COVID-19. We are concerned for those students we know and those we already care about who we’ll have.
We are worried about what it would do if even one student, one staff member or one family member of any of us contracts and God forbid dies, from the coronavirus. The mental health of students, staff and families matter.
It’s hard to cope, teach and learn in the midst of deep grief. This reality can happen. It’s why school districts are working hard to make the right choices for how to manage this particular school year.
The general consensus across our nation’s school districts appears to be remote online, hybrid or in school, in some variation. This makes deciding how this will happen VERY difficult for those involved, with a huge awareness of knowing that not everyone will be happy and nobody wants to make anyone more anxious, but it will occur anyway.
Nobody ever thought that our nation would face a worldwide pandemic, let alone one that would shift so many parts of our lives. Even after school districts decide how school will operate, the virus can very well still cause some of the new plans to shift again. Let’s hope not, but it could happen.
Know that the majority (I would like to think & believe.) of educators, school administrators and Boards of Education don’t want more distress for anyone. I mean, this has been an intensely stressful summer break for us, when it’s usually a time of refreshing.
The present may suck in many ways, but we must never give up on ourselves or the potential that exists in the younger generations.
If your minds and emotions are feeling a sense of overload in how to manage your life and that of your families, please remember that so are ours. Plus, we are trying to figure out how our students’ lives and the lives of their families and ours will be impacted. THAT’S A LOT for us.
We will continue to do all we can for the sake of the wellbeing of students, while also keeping all of us safe. We can all learn how to take deeper breaths and let go of what we cannot control. We can all spend more time focusing on some of the positives more on a daily basis, because they do exist. For me, I will be doing all of that, plus praying, trusting God and cherishing those who are still in my life.
I know how hard this has all been. I know what it’s like to lose loved ones to this virus. I know that I would love nothing more than to be in my classroom, as usual, connecting with my students and inspiring them that they are truly the amazing human beings I know they are and that they can still change the world for good.
We’ve always had unknowns in our lives. I know that this generation of students will be some of the most resilient, most innovative and most compassionate people this world will ever see. This time will propel them in ways that will inspire them to make the years ahead far better than this year has been, thus far.
How can I say all of that and believe it? Because I’m a teacher through and through, and I believe in these kids and teens. I really do. Together, we can do far more good for all.
Believe in us. Knowing you trust us in the midst of all of this, helps us know that we are valued and as a community, we will get through this.
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