Monday, February 09, 2009

Do you ever wonder if you are having an impact on your students? I think all teachers do. We wonder if we are getting our content across, certainly, but more importantly, we wonder if our students know we care about them, and will remember us as a teacher they liked having.

On those days students are annoyed with me for the work load, or my expectations for behavior, or the chunk of parent phone calls I made the night before, I often remind them I am not paid to be their friend, I am not here for them to like me, I am here to teach them, and I will do whatever it takes to make that possible.

In reality though, I am not that hard hearted. I want my students to realize how very much I do care about each and every one of them. I want them to feel like I tried to personally touch them in some way, even if they struggled academically in my classes.

I love Alfie Kohn's article, Unconditional Teaching. His message is important for all of us to remember:
"If some children matter more to us than others, then all children are valued only conditionally. Regardless of the criteria we happen to be using, or the number of students who meet those criteria, every student gets the message that our acceptance is never a sure thing. They learn that their worth hinges on their performance."
Every time I read Kohn's words, the faces of past students I am sure I have slighted come to mind.
"Teaching in this way is not just a matter of how we respond to children after they do something wrong, of course. It’s about the countless gestures that let them know we’re glad to see them, that we trust and respect them, that we care what happens to them. It’s about the real (and unconditional) respect we show by asking all students what they think about how things are going, and how we might do things differently, not the selective reinforcement we offer to some students when they please us."
I hope each day, each hour, there are enough of those countless gestures I bestow upon my students to help them understand how valuable each of them was to me.
"Imagine that your students are invited to respond to a questionnaire several years after leaving the school. They’re asked to indicate whether they agree or disagree – and how strongly – with statements such as: “Even when I wasn’t proud of how I acted, even when I didn’t do the homework, even when I got low test scores or didn’t seem interested in what was being taught, I knew that [insert your name here] still cared about me.”
How would you like your students to answer that sort of question? How do you think they will answer it?"
I know that some of my students know how very much I cared for them, but I worry about those few who slipped between the cracks. I worry that my frustrations with them overshadow the true feelings I felt for them.

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