This summer will mark eleven years since I graduated from high school. The educational climate of our world has undergone monumental change since then but sadly, the old adage, “the more things change, the more they stay the same,” still rings true.
Being in school as a member of the faculty this time, is like an old familiar T-shirt: very comfortable but somewhat ill-fitting because students today face similar obstacles and some even more complicated than when I went to school. Sadly, sometimes teachers can’t help but stand silently on the sidelines with no way to intervene and no answers to offer.
As teachers it is sometimes so easy for us to bulldoze our way through a lesson. We plan, we prepare, we create resources, we try to make learning relevant and when we’re in the classroom to deliver it, we don’t want to let anything get in our way. But, very often we forget that just like we do, our students bring with them emotional baggage and a host of 21st century problems and complexities that they’re dealing with individually. As educators, this can be a daunting task—teaching students who come with a book bag in one hand and emotional baggage in the other.
You see, it’s so easy sometimes to forget that our students are a product of their own unique experiences – a culmination of their own sensibilities, their personal beliefs, family dynamics, values, thoughts and feelings. They each come with an untold story—some typical and average, others awful and extremely sad. Though I’m in a rather unique position as a teacher and friend/counselor, even I find myself fighting an inner battle to see which role serves my students the best. Very often, the teacher in me has to take the back seat. Sometimes all students really need is someone who’ll hear them out.
You see, what adults see on the outside is very often a child’s protective suit – their armor – while this inner world is often kept tucked away unless an environment is created that allows for feelings of safety and a sense of belonging. When any child or adult enters into a space that accepts, inspires and affirms their emotional space, we have finally found the key that unlocks the door to extravagant learning! What is that key? That golden key is a connection and nothing matters more to a teacher-student relationship.
How do we do this?
We do this through sharing our own stories, followed by the deepest kind of listening that usually escapes most of us. When we share a personal account, a story that brings forth our commonalities as humans, we connect on the most basic but close level because we can begin to empathize, feeling what it must be like to walk in the shoes of another.
We need more teachers in the world who realize the full extent of their calling; teachers who are willing to sacrifice their years of experience and preconceived notions at the altar of service to children who need that connection.
Inside the classroom, the lesson might sometimes be uncomfortable, staccato and the attainment or the outcomes may not be as high as other days. There will be a lot of squirming in the seats as we search for underlying themes in a play or contemporary relevance in a piece of old English Prose. But I honestly believe that sometimes it’s more important to show students it’s not a question of how to get better at subject content, but rather that you’re there for them willing to do whatever it takes for them to make it through that day, through high-school and beyond.