I am currently in my 16th year of teaching. I have taught at 4 different schools in my career, two of them in small towns, and two of them in the city. I have taught grade 8 through grade 12, mostly math, with a few other subjects thrown in. I have mostly enjoyed my time as a teacher, a lot of ups with a few downs. I have never been the most organized teacher, I have never been very creative in how I deliver content or assess students, but I have always felt that I was a pretty good math teacher, just maybe not a great math teacher. However, when people have asked me over the years what my greatest strength is as a teacher, I have always responded that I feel like I am good at connecting with my students. And I have always felt as though this was one of the most important things we as teachers can do.
Every teacher is different, and I believe this is a good thing. We need all sorts of teachers with different strengths, different styles, and different perspectives. And every student is different as well. We as teachers cannot make a student like us, or make a student love our subject area, but every teacher can make an attempt to connect with their students. This is something that we, as teachers, can control.
When I think back to my high school experience, I don’t necessarily remember the most organized teachers or the most intelligent teachers or the funniest teachers, but I do remember the teachers that I connected with. I remember the teachers that took an interest in the things I did outside of school. I remember the teachers that were caring and kind. I remember the teachers that were fair and listened to me. I remember the teachers that gave up their time to coach, direct, or run a club. I remember the teachers that made an effort. When I entered the teaching profession, I aspired to be and do all these things that I admired in my teachers.
To this day, when I run into a former student, we don’t talk about that amazing math lesson I did, we talk about the trip we took together, or the close basketball game we won (or lost), or the musical we did together. And I do the same when I run into my former teachers. Connecting with students is a huge part of what we do, and students will remember and hold onto that.
We can do small things as teachers to connect with students, they don’t have to be big things like coaching a sport or directing a musical. It may be as simple as saying hello in the morning or asking how their day is going. It may be as simple as asking about their interests, or going to seem them play a game, or sing at the choir concert. It may be as simple as opening up and letting them know something personal about yourself. It may be as simple as listening to their concerns and giving them a voice. It may be as simple as getting to know the student and their story.
Of course all of the other stuff is important too. I think that all teachers should be organized and professional and experts in their content area, but I think that we get too wrapped up in the day to day grind. Curriculum, timelines, professional development, assessments, planning. Sometimes we lose sight of the small things that can mean a lot to our students. If we take the time to connect with our students it will make a difference. It did for me. So thank you to all of my teachers that connected with me. And I encourage all of the teachers who read this to continue the work they do to connect with their students. It will make all the difference in the world.
If you are in the mood for sharing, let me know what you do to make connections with students or share a memory from your own school experience. I would love to hear from you!