I’ve known a boy I’ll call Robert for 3 years. As a first grader, he seemed to give his teacher a hard time. As a second grader, his teacher told me he was the most difficult student she had ever taught. In her defense, he is smart and capable but would often disobey just to, what appeared to be, spite her. Robert’s second grade teacher admitted that she struggled to like him and I began to believe that he knew that and worked even harder to sabotage his relationship with her. In third grade, Robert’s teacher worked really hard to create a relationship with him. He determined that Robert was a perfectionist with little self-esteem. This teacher attributed Robert’s negative attitude to feeling as though he never did well enough. His teacher was fair and firm with Robert and he responded well, however his negative attitude would still frequently appear. This year, as a fourth grader, Robert’s teacher has shared that he’s, “testing her,” and she doesn’t know how to gain his trust.
I’ve had the privilege of teaching Robert in leveled reading and math groups every single school day for the last three years. What I see is an incredibly bright student that is very hard on himself. He can be silly. He can be thoughtful. He can be inquisitive. And he can be moody. However, when Robert feels safe and not judged, I’ve found that he’ll do anything you ask.
And I like him. He challenges me but I appreciate him. He knows that. Furthermore, I know he believes that. I’ve been gifted hugs from Robert. He once gave me a paper flower on Mother’s’ Day. And he asks me about my class every time I see him. The problem is Robert hasn’t shown this side to very many teachers. When I talk about him and the learning we’re doing in my class, my colleagues sometimes think we’re not talking about the same child.
Recently I had a classroom observation as part of an interview for an award. The time of my observation was during Robert’s small reading group. Prior to the observation I shared with the class that we’d be having a visitor the next day. I reminded them that we’d just have class as normal and that the visitor was there to watch me so there was nothing special that they’d need to do. Then I told them my visitor had heard what incredible work they’d been doing so she would be happy to see our work in action.
I’m a believer that observations shouldn’t warrant instruction different than any other day. After all, I should be the best teacher I can be every single day! We had the lesson we would have done that day, regardless. Everything went as planned and we moved on with the week. About a week later, our school had an assembly. The assembly was only for students in the 3rd, 4th, and 5th grade. Because we sit in age order, the 3rd graders were sitting in the front of the gym. During the assembly, I was surprised by being presented with an award. I was humbled and honored to be recognized for the work my ESD had seen during my recent classroom observation. Our observer came to the front of the gym, called me up, and shared with the school that she had seen some students doing incredible work. She continued to share her observations from the lesson she saw. I was surprised by the honor and a little embarrassed. As I stood, somewhat uncomfortably, in the front of the gym, my eyes grazed from the floor up to the front row of kids. There, sitting front and center, was Robert. He looked at me with a huge smile on his face and pointed his thumb toward himself. With a sparkle in his eye, he mouthed, “That was me!” I saw the most pride I had ever seen from Robert before. All I could do was smile back.
We know positive student-teacher relationships is one the highest-yielding strategies for student achievement. What we sometimes forget to discuss is the fact that positive student-teacher relationships is also one of the greatest rewards we earn as teachers. I know I’ve made a difference for Robert. But I keep wondering, does he know the difference he’s made for me?
I grew up here in Western Washington, wanting to be a teacher for as long as I can remember. As the oldest child in my family, I had plenty of opportunities to "practice" teaching my younger siblings. I enjoyed this. They may not have. :) When I'm not working, I enjoy outdoor activities with my husband and our two Australian Shepherds (whom are far too spoiled for their own good!). I also love spending time with my family, being an auntie (to the cutest kids ever to grace this planet!), hosting dinner parties for friends, crafting, taking photographs and shopping.