I just got a text message telling me that Patrick Ovide (pictured on the left), my student from eighth and ninth grade English class at Eagle Academy for Young Men of Southeast Queens, acknowledged me during his salutatorian graduation speech today as the teacher who instilled a love of reading in him and provided a space where he always felt welcomed.
The tears just welled up, partially because he remembered me and all I tried to impart to him, but also because I wasn’t able to be there in person to celebrate with Patrick and the rest of the Eagle Class of 2017, a group of young men who have informed my experience as a teacher and my work for the eradication of the school-to-prison pipeline more than any other group of students with whom I’ve ever had the pleasure of teaching. These young men challenged, amazed, tested, taught, perplexed, and loved me. It feels rewarding to know that several years and teachers later, the learning that took place in our class still commands attention in the forefront of at least one of their minds.
It’s all about relationship-building.
This is my first academic year at Queens Collegiate. One of my new colleagues and I really hit it off and I was often in her classroom during her senior advisory class. From those seemingly innocuous 10-15 minute interactions, bonds were created between the seniors and me. They saw that I took an interest in them. I even went to their prom and took my daughter with me, a member of the Class of 2017 at her own school. The love and acceptance that the students at my school showed us was unlike anything I’d ever experienced before — and I never formally taught them a day in my life. I even received a single rose of appreciation and gratitude from a member of QC’s Class of 2017, a very public symbol given by a student to those teachers who have touched him/her deeply.
Again, it’s all about relationship-building.
To be a highly effective educator in a way that goes beyond what the Danielson rubric measures, you have to sincerely care about not just the students who sit before you in your classroom each day, but about the student whose eyes yours lock with in passing through the hallway, whose personality you click with or don’t during an impromptu teacher coverage, or whose face you recall while out at the supermarket during the weekend. I wish I could tell you that there’s a sure-fire formula for how to successfully build relationships with your students during one of your teaching methodology courses in college, but there’s not. This skill falls under the art of teaching, not the science of it, and the desire to hone in and master these skills is born from a deep commitment to building a strong school culture — one student at a time.
I can, however, share with you a list of some notes with strategies that one of my teachers (ironically, I don’t remember who) shared with me during my pre-service teacher training that truly help foster meaningful relationships between me and my students.
- Greet students at the door everyday.
- Invite them into your classroom.
- Say something genuine and nice to them; ask them how they’re doing..
- Make them feel that you care just as much about them just as much as your subject matter.
- Provide an environment that’s appropriate for students to discuss life issues that are relevant to their lives.
- Spend a minute or two talking about something that’s of interest to the kids at the beginning of each class. If you can tie it into the lesson, fine. Kids are ready to learn since they got something off their chest and are more likely to listen when you start talking.
- Use “did you know…. ” instead of “Do Now.”
- Teach students social skills needed for coping with peer relations and stress. Respect is the priority for group process. Kids are under enormous stress with the pressures of standardized tests.
- Have the kids use a stress journal to help them cope.
- Create a resource bulletin board in the classroom to help children gain access to community resources inside and outside of school.
- Reach all kids in your classroom! Devise alternative learning strategies for children with learning disabilities.
- Correlate relevant drug-related material with the curriculum i.e. Michael Jackson’s drug O.D.
- Allow kids to choose and change their classroom seats.
- Find out what they are passionate about and share it with them.
- Praise students based on personal growth and development, not necessarily on grades, and use a Progressive Honor Roll system to reward this growth.
Feel free to add to or take away from this list, as surely it’s neither comprehensive nor exhaustive. Just like the relationships you will build with your students during the years to come, make it personal. Make it your own.