Super Teacher's Job is Never Done!

Super Teacher's Job is Never Done!
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Teaching is the profession that teaches all the other professions. ~ Author Unknown

My goal is to reveal one teacher's humble journey of self-reflection, critical analysis, and endless questioning about my craft of teaching and learning alongside my middle school students.

"The dream begins with a teacher who believes in you, who tugs and pushes and leads you to the next plateau, sometimes poking you with a sharp stick called 'truth'." ~ Dan Rather

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

"Kay, they're not your children!"

The good news: I survived my first day back at school after an unexpected 10-day break due to DC's multiple blizzards. The bad news: my eighth graders seemed to come back with even more attitude, sass, and, of course, hormones. I really believe that these years of teaching will hopefully make me a better parent one day. In the meantime, though, I cannot help but sometimes get a bit too attached to my students and want to see them as my own children.

Am I embarrassed to say that I have a tendency to get TOO emotionally attached to my students? Not at all. In fact, I do not believe good teaching can exist without mutual respect, trust, and openness on the part of the teacher and student. I aim to build this positive rapport and dialogue with my students from day one. You cannot expect any student -- an adolescent one especially -- to want to learn from you if you have not proven to them that you care about them and know something about them outside of being a student in your class. Personal relationship building lies at the heart of every effective teacher's craft and presents the most opportunity for any teacher to truly reach a student and inspire him or her to be the best learner -- and person -- possible.

Of course, there is a fine line between getting to know students and knowing when to draw solid boundaries, especially as a younger teacher like me. Even though I am in my late twenties (as of this Sunday!), I look much younger, which often presents problems initially with students wanting to see me as their peer -- and not an adult. Being a young, attractive female teacher presents an array of problems when attempting to teach hormonal eighth grade boys, who tend to develop crushes on you easily and want to "Facebook" you. This year, more than any of my other four in teaching, is no exception.

In fact, my co-teacher and I were discussing today how much worse this particular group of eighth grade boys is in terms of blatant vulgarity, disrespect towards adults (especially women), and sexual inappropriateness. My first obvious example of this came in September, when I overheard two boys in one of my classes making an inappropriate sexual twist on my name. It was not until one of these boys decided to call me this name in front of the rest of the class that I knew something had to be done -- and that this was a perfect "teachable moment" to establish firm, fair boundaries with him.

What made the situation even more uncomfortable is the fact that this male student and I got along very well from the start. We shared a love of running, a similar sense of humor, and a passion for learning, with the student often stopping by to say hello and finding any excuse to get my attention. What started as an innocent "crush" on his part had escalated to an over-stepping of boundaries that was completely disrespectful and uncalled for. Not knowing how to react to the situation initially, I decided to call his mother, at the recommendation of a trusted colleague. I did, and boy, did my student's mother unleash her fury and disappointment at him that evening.

By making that phone call, I knew I was potentially destroying -- temporarily or permanently -- the rapport I had with that student but was also hopefully teaching him important adult/student limits and boundaries. Since the phone call, this student has been much more respectful to me in class and has not overstepped any lines. What he did decide to do, though, was express his hatred of me behind my back and harass students who have close relationships with me. Knowing a bit about this, I decided to continue to make this a learning opportunity for the student and "lectured" him as appropriate about his work ethic, participation, academic potential, and his mother's wisdom. Believe me, I have analyzed what transpired with this individual student far too closely. What it basically comes down to is that this student wanted to see me as a peer, felt I had "tattled" on him to his mother, and now is forced to associate me as a adult aligned with his mother.  He has even told me several times, "You sound like my mom," which I now take as a compliment.

While I know it is unrealistic and unhealthy to believe that all my students will "like" me, it still is hurtful when I hear about this student expressing intense dislike of me. When you spend so much time and emotional energy on a student, you want them to like you -- and to see you as an adult they can look up to and learn from. The student has commented that he feels I "treat him differently than other students," and I recently told him that's because I see the potential in him and want to push him to give his best in everything he does. I still would like to hear more about why he has so much "hatred" and frustration towards me (and maybe he will feel comfortable expressing this to me at some point in the future), but, as my husband reminds me, "Kay, they're not your children! He's only 14 and barely even a person yet." True, but I cannot help but become emotionally attached and want the best for him -- and my other students.

Why do teachers invest so much of their time and emotional energy into their students? And why do we choose to focus on individual students over others? After all, my constant thinking about the events surrounding this student seem silly and trivial compared to the serious issues many of my other 120 students bring with them to school every day. Oftentimes, I find myself having to step back and realize that I will NOT be able to reach every student and that not every student at this point necessarily WANTS to be reached -- or changed "for the better". What I can hope for, though, is to plant the seed of trust, respect, and communication that will motivate my students to want to achieve, be their best, and make safe, healthy decisions for themselves down the road, both in and out of school.

I may not have my own children yet, but for the meantime, I think it's OK to see my students as my surrogate "children" who mean the world to me. Is there anything wrong with that? I certainly hope not.

1 comment:

  1. Your story is so like what I am experiencing right now with one of my 7th graders. I absolutely treat him differently than some of his peers because he needs to be pushed more than they do. Ugh I can't imagine what they would all be like after an UNEXPECTED break!