The role of a teacher always goes beyond the curricular lessons. It goes beyond the skills being taught and developed within the confines of the classroom. It even goes beyond the life lessons, the inspiration to continue to learn, and instilling a work ethic.
Teaching goes beyond all of those things because without one key thing, none of those values, those lessons, and those skills will be instilled into students. Students must know that their teacher is “all in”. They must know that their teacher cares about them, not only as students achieving in the classroom, but as people. If students know that their teacher is all about them, magic happens. And, yes, as corny as that sounds, magic does, indeed, happen.
As a young teacher this often manifests itself by spending time. Showing up to a kid’s game or staying after school almost every day are the ways most young teachers show they care. There is a gift of time that allows a teacher to show a student how much he/she cares. In my younger days, I would stay after school every single day. There wouldn’t be any formal extra help, but my young middle school students knew that there was a place for them to go. It was easy for me to be an advisor to multiple clubs, spend time on the weekends at events, and to be the one to show up at plays, concerts, and competitions. Students knew that I cared because I was always around. There were others like me. And, if I am honest, I said that I would never become one of those old teachers who don’t show up.
Fast forward a couple of years and life changed for me. Suddenly, I was the Dad. Staying after became harder and harder because I wanted to be home with my newborn. Weekends were spent with my own child. I still cared about the kids I taught. I was still all in on the job. But, life changed. And, now as the old guy in front of the room, it’s changed even more so. The concerts are now my daughter’s concerts. The weekend events have turned into her birthday party tours with me being a taxi driver.
And, I wouldn’t change it for anything. Being Dad is the best, most meaningful thing in my life. There’s nothing I would do differently and nothing I want to change.
Almost every teacher in the field long enough comes to this point in his/her career. There is the point when time isn’t as plentiful. There is the time when the responsibility of family takes over. And, there is the time where events become your own kids’. But, this time of a career doesn’t mean that being all in is impossible. You can still be all in. Students can still know that you care, that you are interested in them as people. It just requires a bit more creativity on the teacher’s part.
Some ways to show you’re all in, even when you can’t be there all hours of the day and night…
Showing a kid that you’re all in is as easy as showing that you are willing to spend your “free time” with them. Like the younger days spent at events, a simple lunch time meeting can make a difference for kids of all ages. I’ve seen this done in a number of ways. My daughter’s teacher–probably the best teacher I’ve ever seen–has regular lunch time with her fourth grade students. It is used as a prize for good behavior. I can tell you that my daughter loves this time and comes home full of stories about her lunch sessions with her favorite teacher. During those lunch sessions, her teacher talks to them about their interests outside of the classroom. When she found out my daughter had her own Youtube channel, she played some of the videos. My daughter was thrilled.
I remember one veteran teacher during my first few years of my career would go into the 7th grade cafeteria and each lunch with kids. He would sit with different groups of kids and just talk. Now, this was a man who retired just three years into my career, yet he would spend time with kids in the cafeteria.
This year, a colleague of mine–a Mother of two and a teacher for over 20 years–opened up her room for students to come eat if they don’t quite feel comfortable in the cafeteria or just feel like coming into chat. She even has gone as far as bringing in a small couch for kids to sit on. Instead of locking her door or heading into the teacher’s lounge every day, this teacher spends some lunch periods with kids.
There are certainly some days when every teacher needs alone time. We all need to recharge. We all need those 45 minutes to eat and bond with colleagues too. But, giving some time to sit with kids during a lunch period is one of the best ways to show that you are all in and care enough to talk with them. In the end, it’s about showing them you want to spend time with them, even when you aren’t obligated to.
Open Door Policy
I am fortunate enough to have an office for my other duties as English Department Coordinator. My students know that and I give them my schedule for not only the classes I teach, but when I will be in the office. They know that they can come at any point. And, they certainly do come. Some just want to talk sports. Others have problems that they want to bounce off me. Others are worried about college, boyfriends/girlfriends, classes to take, and even those serious life issues that require a careful response. My group knows that they can come to my classroom at anytime. If I am busy teaching, we will setup a time to talk. And, if there is a big emergency, they know I will drop what I am doing and help immediately.
Another colleague of mine has a similar open door policy. Her kids will regularly come in to just talk. Sometimes, they will just need a place to go and gather their thoughts. My colleague has adopted the bookroom, which is adjacent to her classroom as a safe place for her students. Students go there to study quietly. They go there to talk with her. Because of this, her kids know that she cares and that they are important to her.
Being willing to spend time during the day, even for just a few minutes or for an entire period can make a difference to a kid. It sends a message that they matter. More importantly, it sends the message that they matter to you.
Give Up The Period
Now, curriculum demands are important to meet. After all, we are here to educate. But, there is absolutely nothing wrong with taking a period and just talking to kids. And, by talking, it doesn’t mean to have some current event in mind. It means letting kids guide the discussion. What are they interested in? What inspires them? What scares them? What video game are they playing? What music are they listening to?
Spending some time just talking to a class shows the group that you care about them as people. You care about what they have to say. You care about what they are interested in. Even though you are the old guy in front of the room, you are willing to listen. The really interesting part with be that they will be somewhat embarrassed at first when they tell you what they like. They are afraid of being judged by the old person in front of the room. Once they see that you won’t judge, you will learn so much about them. And, they will learn that they matter more than curriculum.
Now, some teachers have told me that they can’t afford to give up the time. My answer to that always comes in the form of a question: how many sick days/mental health days have you taken this year that took away from curriculum? How many days did you use to show a film because you needed to catch up on grading? Those days were seemingly recovered. I think a day spent talking to kids is well worth the price of making up the whatever was planned for the period.
And, this is the best opportunity to ask them about their events, their games, and their concerts. While home responsibilities may prohibit you from attending, all students want to know that you care enough about their successes and their life. A simple “how did it go?”, “how did you do?” or “congratulations” clearly show that you care.
Leverage Tech/Open Virtual Door
Technology can be used to enhance communication between teacher and student. Many of my colleagues use apps such as Remind as a way to communicate with classes and students. While the primary function is to send out class announcements, many of my colleagues will get individual texts from kids. Some range from reaching out for help to simply joking around. In either extreme, the same thing is developing–a relationship.
I am a fan of Google Classroom and, of course, email. I will post things regularly on Classroom, whether it’s a message about how hard they are working, to announcing some successes, or even just links I think they might enjoy. Emails are, by far, the most used form of communication in my class. Many times, students will just write their frustrations with a particular assignment or reach out for help with some writing. And, they know, I will answer them at some point every night. Because of that, they know that I am available and willing to help. That leads to emails about their lives. That leads to them sharing successes, fears, and everything in between. While I am not physically present, they know that I am “there” and always willing to help.
They know that it is not something I have to do. That’s what makes the relationship stronger. T
Learn From Them
One of the best ways to show kids that you are all in is to have them teach you things. One of my favorite projects was when I gave them the assignment “Teach An Old Guy Something”. I was looking for a way to marry argument and their interests. So, I challenged them to argue why I should learn something that use or are about every day. One group taught me Instagram. Another taught me Snapchat. Another group taught me why they are the compassionate generation, not the apathetic one they are labeled as. There were quite a few others. Each group had to put together an argument, addressing all of the elements (claim, evidence, counterclaim, resolution). And, each group had to teach me their “thing”.
It turned out to be one of the most rewarding projects for me. I learned a lot about what they are interested in, what they used everyday, and, most importantly, why they used it. Instagram isn’t used just to post random pictures. Many put some serious thought into what pictures and were in to telling a story. I learned how they did little things each day that were incredibly compassionate. They are things that go unnoticed, but to them, it is important.
The result was knowing a group of kids better. I was also able to show that I valued them enough to learn and use what they liked and considered important. One group even gave me homework, which was to use Instagram properly. I did well.
Being “all in” isn’t about spending every moment at a place or going to every single event. The younger version of me was able to do that and I am grateful for that time. The older version cannot. But, the older version of me is still all in. Kids don’t need you to be at everything. They need to know that you care about them as people. They need to know that you care enough to ask them about their lives. They need to know that you value what they do and how they do it. And, they need to know you are there, even when you don’t have to be.