Valentine’s Day: The Day After in the Classroom

We celebrated a day dedicated to love in our country yesterday. Everyone was buying chocolates, candies, doughnuts, and cards in a desire to show those closest to them how much they love them. On my way to school I stopped by a local doughnut shop and bought some goodies for my students’ delight – but what about today? And the day after that? And the one after that? How are we as educators intentionally drawing our students into positive, respectful, mutually beneficial relationships with us? How do we show them that we love them, one human being to another? I’ve written about the student-teacher connection before (see, for example, here, here,  here, and here) and I am certain that I will write about it again because it’s just that important to me and to the teaching profession. Honestly, it’s what’s missing not only from many classroom communities but from our global community as well.

Connecting with my students is important to me. It is such an integral part of my role as an educator. Though few and far between (for the most part, my students take a liking to me), it’s that one student with whom I don’t connect who always stands out in my brain. I have had many a sleepless night wondering and researching what I could do to get across to her or him. Why didn’t he or she like me?

Now, that may sound silly to some but it’s really not. In order for my students to learn from me, they have to like me. Something about me has to win them over — my clothes, my hairstyle, my knowledge of their slang or the music they listen to — something. Once that authentic connection is made, there is nothing that I can’t teach them because they will allow me in. That’s right, contrary to popular belief, teaching is a two-way street with learning the destination. But we won’t t make any progress without mutual trust and respect between student and teacher. I can be the best teacher ever but if my students aren’t willing or able to learn from me, every day that I stand up in front of them with the goal of imparting knowledge is an act of futility.

A recent article in the American Psychological Association Journal called “Improving Students’ Relationships with Teachers to Provide Essential Supports for Learning” invites us to,

Picture a student who feels a strong personal connection to her teacher, talks with her teacher frequently, and receives more constructive guidance and praise rather than just criticism from her teacher. The student is likely to trust her teacher more, show more engagement in learning, behave better in class and achieve at higher levels academically. Positive teacher-student relationships draw students into the process of learning and promote their desire to learn (assuming that the content material of the class is engaging, age-appropriate and well matched to the student’s skills).

There’s a balance that has to be achieved in order for that  euphoric “buzz” of learning and fun to take place in our classrooms. You know, that buzz that Charlotte Danielson continuously refers to in the Highly Effective realm of her observation rubric. This is not something that happens on a whim and it’s not something that can be taught either. I think this should go without saying but I’ll just go ahead and state the obvious: You have to genuinely like kids in order to be a teacher. A lot of teachers don’t really like or really “get” kids. They’ve fallen out of touch with the current generation. Not only can’t they relate, but they don’t want to relate. That’s unfortunate and if you fall into this category, please do all of us teachers who really love kids and all of the kids who are on your student roster a favor and bow out gracefully now!



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