“When we admit to ourselves that we love our kids, we’re making a deep emotional investment in them.” – Anna Baldwin, Montana State Teacher of the Year, 2014
A lot of ingredients go into making a great educator. Patience, knowledge, persistence, creativity, a sense of humor (in my humble opinion)…just to name a few. Is there room for love in that ingredients list? To answer my own question, I think there has to be and I was reminded of that this past weekend at the national Elevating & Celebrating Effective Teachers and Teaching convening in New Orleans.
While there, I had the opportunity to listen to amazing educators like Anna Baldwin (@annaebaldwin) talk about her love for her students. From her speech I realized that love adds a level of complexity to our relationships; especially the relationships with have with our students. What if we fail them? What if we do everything we can and they don’t succeed? As educators, we are disappointed when those things occur, but we are downright heartbroken when they happen to those we love. By the end of her message, I realized that despite the fact that it can be a risk, to love our students is necessary, and in most cases unavoidable.
I had the honor and privilege of listening to Matt Keefauver (@m_keefauver) talk about how it took a cancer diagnosis (and 20+ years in the classroom) for him to really admit to himself how much he loved his students. Listening to him speak, it was obvious that his students brought light to his life, and were a major part of him, both in and out of the classroom. I urge you to listen to his message here, it’s 15 minutes that will make you laugh, bring you to tears, and inspire you to reflect deeply.
A key to success in the classroom is building those relationships with your students. It takes time, but more importantly trust and respect. Respect your students for who they are as unique individuals. Show them day in and day out that they can trust you and your intentions. Communicate that you have their best interest in mind when you hold them to high expectations and that you will never give up on this (often difficult) journey of helping them reach their potential. Tell them that you love them.
There are many ways to build relationships with your students. Every couple months I ask my students to write me a letter. I don’t grade it for spelling or grammar. I’m not asking them to include evidence from a text we’re reading or insist that they brainstorm and pre-write. I do, however, ask that they are open and honest, and be comfortable to share as much or as little as they need. I ask them to tell me how they’re feeling; about school, home, friends, or anything that comes to mind. I ask them to share with me what is working for them in our classroom community, or what they think could help them be more successful. Most importantly, I write back to them. My students come alive when writing these letters. I learn things from them that help me be a better teacher and a better person. I realize my love for my most trying students, because their letter proves to me that they need it most. I gain insight about their lives and thoughts, which allows me to meet their needs more fully- in turn, they learn more. It’s in these letters that I am reminded how much I love my students.
“It took me 20 years and a cancer diagnosis to realize that I loved my students. That the work that I do, and the impact that these kids have had on me, have made me the effective teacher that I am.” – Matt Keefauver, 8th Grade Math Teacher.