Script for my podcast
Dustin Swanson hit the nail right on the head in his blog when he wrote “Teaching is an art; it involves emotions .” This fact is especially important to realize and appreciate now that the new school year is fast approaching. I can have the best lesson plans in the world and be organized to the nth degree, but if I don’t pay attention to my students’ emotional well being it’s not going to go well for me or my students.
I have been teaching at-risk kids for over 20 years and have learned the value of spending the first few weeks of school developing a positive relationship with my students. I have found that these kids do not automatically give me respect just because I am a teacher. Those days are long gone. Far from it. It’s not the 1950’s anymore. The tables are turned. The at-risk teenagers I teach demand respect from me first before they are prepared to respect me as a teacher. They watch me carefully those first few weeks to see if I really do respect them, if I walk my talk.
I’ll have to admit when I first realized this I was stunned. I would have to prove that I respect them before they would respect me? That didn’t seem right. They weren’t even going to give me the benefit of the doubt! I would start with zero respect and have to work my way up.They tell time and time again that they hate teaches. I don’t know who they think I am when they tell me this. I had one grade eleven student tell me that she hasn’t talked to teachers since she started high school. Talk about being disconnected from school.
How do I earn my students respect ? I follow the golden rule. I treat them the way that I would want them to treat me. It really works. I have few rules but they are all about showing one another respect. I don’t mean the kind of respect that when I tell them to jump, they ask how high. I honour them, how they feel, what they say and do and I expect them to do the same to me and their fellow classmates.
You know that part of the problem is that they don’t exactly know what it means to be respectful or how to be respectful. I’m not kidding. Some times when I tell them that it wasn’t respectful to do whatever, they are blown away. They don’t necessarily mean to be disrespectful but don’t know that they are being disrespectful.
I spend the first few weeks working hard at being respectful to kids who aren’t necessary respectful to me. I basically model day in and day out what it means to be respectful and how to approach problems by being respectful. Now I’m not always successful. The kids are quick to tell me that I’m not always respectful. It’s true. Sometimes I absolutely loose it. I apologize and then tell them that teachers aren’t perfect. I’m not perfect. I’ll be the first to admit it. Teachers are human beings first and teachers secondly and because they are human they make mistakes like losing it once in a while.
Kids need to know that teachers are not perfect. Kids need to know that not being perfect is something they have in common with teachers. When I tell kids this they are a bit surprised. They tell me that some teachers think and act like they are perfect. We talk about why teachers and other people act like they are perfect. These and the other numerous discussions we have interfere with the curriculum I’m supposed to be teaching. But, if we don’t get to the bottom of whatever is disconnecting these kids from school and life they will never learn despite my excellent lesson plans . They can’t learn math or whatever until they reconnect with school and teachers. My students are absolutely amazed at what they can and do learn by the end of the semester. I work hard at the golden rule.
Just an aside here, I remember early in my career working into the wee hours of the morning creating absolutely wonderful lesson plans, lesson plans that I could be really proud of. Then the next day in class those wonderful lessons would bomb. That’s when I learned to have emergency lesson plans and activities ready so that I could just switch gears when I need to and continue merrily on. One day a thought came to me- sometimes my students get in the way of my wonderful lessons. If it wouldn’t be for those students, those lessons would be wonderful. Then I have a good laugh. Because, well … I find it helps not to take oneself too seriously. I love finding the irony in things. It’s a wonderful coping mechanism.