There is a prerequisite for reading this post. It’s simple. Its nothing like the need to take Organic Chemistry in order to apply to medical school. The only requirement here is that you actually like the students in your class or your school. That seems simple, right? It’s not though. A lot of us mess this up.
They may smell kind of bad, or talk too much, or whine more than the Napa Valley, but you actually believe somewhere inside of you that they are the best part of your job. And, on your worst of days, things are made a little better when you close your classroom door and hang out with your students. If you are honest with yourself, it is the adults that make your job unbearable at times. Not the students.
If you don’t like your students, of if you find yourself getting angry and annoyed by being in your classroom, I really think you should look for another job. I’m not even judging you. In fact, when I talk to students, I often hear that they feel like there are a lot of teachers they have had over the years who kind of hated teaching. If you want to be somewhere else, but you can’t find that job in administration or corporate education yet, then please just cut the strings now. It’s only fair to kids.
But if you are still reading you fall into the majority of teachers who really like their job. You teach for a lot of reasons, but an important one of those reasons is that you like the students that fill your class each day.
However, even with that good heart of yours, you need a reminder from time to time. At least I do. The politics of the job kind of make me forget the meaning. So I have found a few ways that I can remind myself of what matters.
Write Letters. This week was stressful for a lot of reasons and none of those reasons were in my classroom with headphones in or their cell phone out. It was the end of a quarter, there was stuff going on in all the other things that I get my hands into in this profession, and I was just feeling tired. So, I wrote each of my classes a letter with some of my goals for the second quarter and asked them to form some of their own goals. In a letter to my 12th grade AP Lit class, a class I have had for two years, I told them this: Something important came to my mind last night when somebody asked me what the most “transformational” things are that have happened in my life. Of course, I thought of my wife. I thought of my kids. I thought of some friendships, specifically 3 close friends that have changed me. But you know that I have a tendency for cheesiness, and that is where this is heading. The next thing I thought of was this class. You guys have transformed me. You have made me think of things differently, ask better questions, and find ways to push through some of the bullshit that we sometimes pile on school and in classrooms. In short, this is a thank you. This class has taught me more than I could ever teach you.
Of course, I am overly sentimental. But these letters always lead to some great conversations. This class knows this more than most of my classes as they have had to put up with me for two years. But there is something centering about writing letters. It allows you to stop and think about the good parts of the class, or even better, the person.
Talk to students. Every time I can’t think of what to do to make class better, I take a break in the day to conference with some students. Sometimes this is an individual student to talk about their progress, sometimes this is a group of students to discuss something about life or school, and sometimes this is an entire class to get their feelings or opinions about something. Students of any age are really likable when you give them autonomy. They feel empowered and valued when they are asked questions and their answers are heard and respected. And you end up liking them a bit more because they are being a really good version of themselves.
Make bad jokes. Every teacher should have a few “stock teacher jokes,” as my co-blogger Adam calls them. I have a lot that work to make kids smile, but also make me remember to relax. One of my favorites is to walk by a student who is writing intently and bump their arm to make the pencil or pen stray across the page. Then, when they look up, I tell them that bad penmanship is inexcusable and I will definitely take points off. Adam told me that he likes to wait until elementary students ask him where a certain teacher is and tell them that the teacher they are looking for hasn’t worked here in 9 years. And then act as though they must have been seeing a ghost all that time.
Adam might be kind of mean, but you get the idea.
Grade papers. This one might seem misplaced, but grading papers when I actually have some time always makes me like my students more. It makes me realize that most of my students try in class, even though I might have thought all they did was talk or worry about their text messages. It also makes me see how they are thinking, and sometimes, what they are thinking. It gives me a chance to individually communicate with the student through a quick note or some feedback. Grading papers usually helps me to see the best in students.
I’m not unrealistic. I know there are times when even the best or most positive teachers start to get frustrated by classes or dislike some behaviors. I don’t think that is abnormal, and that is when we have to work to remind ourselves of the good things. If we don’t, we can start to spiral downward for weeks or months making our classroom a terrible place for everybody.
I also know that there are some teachers who don’t like what they do. They are probably not fooling the adults in their building, and they are definitely not fooling the students who sit in their classes every day.
Kids can tell when we like them and it goes a long way to helping them like you and like being in your class.
That is a big deal. Maybe the biggest deal.