Most teachers have a student prototype that makes this job really, really easy. For me, it's a student who does all their homework, asks amazing questions in class, plays sports after school, recites 90's movie lines, and tells me that they want to go to Marquette. When that student walks in my classroom, we already have a relationship and it's gold.
Few students fit that description. Many of my students don't do their homework or enjoy asking questions in class. Most of them could care less about sports or my movie lines. The truth is, the sooner I learned that my students aren't me, the better teacher I became. That's not to say I did all the work, but its more to say, relationships are created and nurtured over time.
I have a student this year that I share very little in common with...
On the first day of school, she visited me in my office to tell me a sob story of why she did not have her summer homework. She was terrified and embarassed. Usually when AP students don't do their summer homework after 11 long weeks to complete it, I'm already raising the red flags.
From that moment, she went about her work quietly and never said a word in class. Her grades on tests were above average and I could see that she was internalizing our system and benefiting from the dilligence to her work. I began to regard her as a serious contender for a 4 or 5 on the AP test, despite knowing all along, that I had invested very little in her success. I hadn't tried hard enough. I did not forge a relationship with this quiet, sweet kid.
A few months ago while grading her notebook, I wrote her a short note apoligizing for not getting to know her better. I told her how impressed I was with her work and how I wanted to be a bigger part of her journey to getting college credit on this exam. I told her I believed in her, because I do. I made sure she read my note. When she did, she shook her head and smiled.
Two weeks later, I was returning tests to my students. As I approched her desk, I looked at her score and was shocked. I handed her the scantron. She looked down and saw her score. It felt like that moment in the movie where the music stops and the audience is left hanging.
She looked up at me with the most amazing smile I've seen. We gave each other a high five and I turned away to avoid welling up in front of my entire class. For the first time all year, she acheived the highest score in the class.
In many cases, we aren't teaching who we are, we are teaching who we aren't.
And while we don't always have a lot in common with our kids, we can create commonalities and value success together. We share in each other's learning and collective success. This particular student of mine has taught me a lot more than I could ever teach her.
Maybe this is a story of neglectful teacher. Perhaps it's a nod to the power of a hand written note. Hopefully as you read this, you feel inspired to reach out to those students who you may not share a lot in common with. Students like her make me realize that if we are uncompromising about anything in our profession, maybe it should be-
Every student deserves a connection with their teacher.