As educators, we have so much to offer students. I know we know that at the basic level, but it helps to consider the impact that a teacher or teachers had on you.
We remember teachers for two reasons for years after we leave their classroom. One is the connection they make, or the belief they had in you, that is made in or out of the classroom. The other is when a teacher shamed you. I want to start by telling you that every educator has left a student with a memory in both directions. You can be the best educator, and you can still impact a student through shame. It’s working everyday to make sure you think about the words you use, the behavior you engage with, and the state of each and every student, each and every day, that prevents us from doing just that.
I will share two thoughts with you in this post.
I am looking to leave the school where I have spent the majority of my teaching career, and while I am ready to pursue some new challenges and passions, I worry that the relationships I created will be lost, and new ones will not be created in their place. I have found that I was wrong. The relationships I created are strong, and I have spent the last four months now reaching out. Early on, it was merely just ‘friending’ former students on social media, but now I am making more of an effort. I have connected in messenger via social media, I have seen many on zoom, and I have seen a select few in person. Every student I see or talk to brings back some incredible feelings in me - pride, friendship, full heart, or pure joy.
I wonder what it means to these former students to have me connect with them?
I remember them, I truly love them, and I am now seeing them as the adults they have become with their own families, their own careers, and their own personal challenges. I have learned that so many of them are pursuing the subject they learned from me, many are educators themselves, and still many are not. If you can believe it, my best friend is a former student of mine, an educator and a future administrator who will change the lives of so many.
Every single one I have connected with has provided something special for me - a memory, a shared experience, a learned experience from their relationship with me, and other seemingly insignificant moments.
This is, without a doubt, what I want for each of the students in my life, to have one of those moments from their relationship with me. I think I may have missed that with many of them, but I wonder now how many.
They have each shaped who I am today, and many have been able to share how much they want to support my new endeavor, which couldn’t make me happier. I have to say it must have something to do with the relationship we had when they were taking on a new endeavor.
How nice it is to have formed such strong relationships.
On the flip side, however, in my work, I recently held a session with educators about the power that a teacher had on them. I asked them to reflect on a teacher that had shamed them, in order to help them realize how something so small to the educator may have been so big to the student.
The phrase, “Jane, you sure do use the bathroom a lot,” said to a third grader, has stuck with one educator through her life. From that day forward, she had difficulty using the bathroom at school, and admits she still has a hard time using the bathroom in public.
I think about that comment, I think of myself saying it - I may have thought I was being funny, or anything other than shaming. However, the reality is that it did shame this student, and she still remembers that teacher.
How about a statement about using the wrong there/their/they’re?’
As a teacher, it can be frustrating to repeatedly remind students of the correct usage of these words. I can imagine saying to the class, ‘Johnny, how many times are you going to get this wrong?’
Can you imagine doing something like that?
It is easy to forget that each student’s experience is their own, and my combined experience is not.
The speech Brene Brown gives educators is a powerful tool to remind us how easy it is to damage the young people in our classrooms, and our homes. If we remind ourselves that the words we use can change the course of a single student’s life, we will do better.
I know I will try harder to forge the relationships between my students that I cherish, and to reduce using words that have the power to hurt. As you will recall from an earlier post, like a tube of toothpaste, you cannot get the words back in once they are out.