While this story makes me giggle, it also makes me a little sad. There weren't very many times that I saw my teachers outside of school. Now, don't get me wrong! I had some pretty fantastic teachers growing up and am blessed to still be friends with many of them.
However, things have changed a lot in the past 20 years. There is a huge emphasis on the importance of building relationships with students to improve classroom behavior and motivation. Especially at schools like mine, where we have a lot of diversity and students from many different backgrounds and home lives, teachers have to make more of an effort than ever to show our students that we care and we are there. So how do we do this? How do we not scare our children every time they see us out in public because they think we camp out on the pillows in the classroom library?
If you would have told me a few years ago that home visits would become one of my favorite things, I definitely wouldn't have believed you! They can be intimidating and challenging, but as someone who once was terrified at the idea of entering a student's home and hanging out with their family, I'm here to tell you that home visits work wonders! Not only does it provide a special one-on-one time in the student's often most relaxed environment, it gives you a chance to ask questions to parents, see where your students do homework, learn about how they play with siblings, and have them show you their favorite things. Home visits will change the way that you see your students. Things will click. You will be surprised at how welcoming most families are! Setting up home visits can be tricky. Try Google Forms if you have access to parent emails or send home a copy of an interest form on the first day of school. Tell parents that you're trying something new, but that it will benefit everyone involved in their child's education. Have a place where they can tell you what days work for them and try to schedule a few a week so that you can visit with all families. I promise, you'll be able to tell the difference!
Make an Effort
This might seem easy, but when we are worn out, middle-of-the-semester tired, making an effort can be almost impossible. Make an effort to set aside a few lunch periods a month and eat with different groups of children. Make an effort to contact parents and ask for sports schedules or recital dates. Make an effort to get to know your students. Make an effort to speak to them and to listen to them. Make an effort to have fun the way that they do. If you jump in a game of basketball every so often at recess, you'll realize things about your students that you couldn't have by sitting and talking with the other teachers. Yes, our weekends are precious and valuable, but so are our relationships with our students. You can do it.
If you find that your students are really into Trolls, plan a reward for a Trolls-themed hair day! If Gaga Ball is all the rage, create an incentive around that activity. Students will start to take notice in your interest and it will matter to them. What are they watching on TV? What kind of music do they listen to? What are the cool snacks they're munching on? Incorporate their interests in your lessons and their attention will automatically increase! Come riding in on a hover-board and you're teacher of the year! Don't make it too difficult on yourself, though. Just remember... It's the little things!
Care About More Than the Score
Y'all! So very important. As I start this new year back in a STAAR testing grade, I want to remind myself that my peanuts are so much more valuable than a number that is associated with an assessment they will take on one measly day out of our entire year together! I know from being the 5th grade teacher in a retention year that had to let students know if they passed or were heading to summer school, these kids already put enough pressure on themselves. Many of them are getting it at home, too. They can feel when we're tense around benchmark days. They know when small groups seem to get a little smaller. They can tell if we've been to a meeting that has us on edge. Just like we know our students, they know us, too. We have to build a relationship with students based on trust, patience, understanding, and positivity. The numbers will plateau at some point if students do not trust in their teacher to take them farther academically. In order for our kids to feel safe and loved in the environment where they will take stressful assessments, we have to remind them frequently that it is not about the score. They are worth so much for than that. Remind them of this as much as you can.
With each school year, each day, each small group session. Especially at the beginning of the year, it is hard to hear what the teachers from last year have to say about certain students. Hush 'em up. Give each student the new chance they deserve to have a great year. As a teacher who knows most of the students in my class since I moved up to 3rd, I can tell you that pushing those thoughts out can be difficult, but the kids need it and I need it. It is a new year and a new beginning. Each day should be a fresh start. So many opportunities are missed because we dwell on the "shoulda, coulda, woulda." Don't let another moment pass you by where your judgement is clouded by someone else's opinion of a student or a past event or experience. The word "yet" is very important. They weren't there last year... yet. They hadn't understood the new concept in small group...yet. Give them the fresh start that they deserve.
When you see them at the grocery store, don't shrink behind the produce section and pretend that you didn't see them. If you're at their t-ball game, cheer as loud as you can. When you visit their home, ask all the questions you can think of and remember special things they tell you. If they get just one more question right on this assignment, get pumped up. If you know the ridiculous new song that is out on the radio, sing it loud and proud. Get excited that they are your student, and they will be excited to learn from you!
As we start the new school year together, I encourage you to spend time thinking about how you plan to build relationships with your students this year. Will you challenge yourself? Will you try something new? It is so very easy to fall into a slump of teacher tiredness and forget that we matter to our students more than just during the hours of 7:00-3:00. Don't duck behind the avocados. Don't become the once-in-a-while grocery store teacher. Your kids need you more than that.