Every year, at the end of the semester, I ask my students to answer four reflective questions on their final exams. This year, those questions looked like this:
- What have you discovered about yourself as a result of being in this class?
- What grade do you think you deserve for this class? Explain your answer.
- Think about the goals you set for yourself at the beginning of class this year.
- Evaluate your progress on those goals.
- What helped you achieve your goals?
- What prevented you from making the progress you wanted?
- What should you do next semester to improve?
- Evaluate your progress on those goals.
- In what ways has Mrs. Waters helped you learn this semester, and what could she do to help you learn better next semester?
Naturally, as I read student responses to these questions, I began to see patterns. Students have said that I've helped them believe in themselves more, helped them to see that writing is something important instead of just a chore, that I have pushed them to be better writers through our daily quickwrites, and learn that they have a voice. Some students even said I am one of their favorite teachers, and one young man wrote the following:
“The job of teaching is very hard because every kid is different, but a good teacher can figure out what each kid needs. Mrs. Waters knows all of us, and knows how to make us want to learn. She has accomplished the biggest goal as a teacher.” Brent* said.
This is huge for me. I have struggled to develop student-teacher relationships for six years now, and I feel like I am finally beginning to figure it out. You can read more about how this happened here.
Most importantly though, as I reflect on my own teaching practice, I have realized that there are two very important ingredients to connecting with young people in class: Showing students that you genuinely care about them and that they are valuable human beings who can have hope.
Mostly, showing you love them and showing them that they are valuable occurs in our daily actions and interactions with the students. But I also know that you have to say those words. It may sound funny coming from an English teacher, but I really struggle with saying those things out loud, sometimes even with my family. (Naturally, this is why I became a writer!) So, I thought I'd lead with my strengths and put my thoughts here.
Students, here are my promises to you. I promise that…
I believe in you.
No matter what happens, no matter what you do, I know you're valuable, capable, and have reason to hope.
You have no doubt you'll get that scholarship, you'll go to college, you'll get that job, you'll meet that wonderful person, you'll get a house, a nice car, you'll take care of your family. And sure, that's entirely possible, but a lot of crap is going to happen as well. Maybe you go to college, but you missed getting that full ride scholarship by one point on your ACT score. So now you have student loans that you'll be paying off for the next 30 years. Or maybe you wake up one day and realize you've coasted through high school (or dealt with a bunch of junk at home) and your grades aren't going to be enough for you to go to college — and maybe not even graduate.
You meet a wonderful person and get married — but because of that, you don't get the amazing dream job you wanted. Oh, and that wonderful person turns out to be a human being with every bit as much baggage, quirks, and personality afflictions as you have. They just all happen to be the ones that drive you the most nuts. (No worries. That wonderful person feels the same way about you.)
Here is what you need to know. In the words of Tenth Avenue North:
You are more than the choices that you've made,
You are more than the sum of your past mistakes,
You are more than the problems you create…
You are valuable. You are worth more than gold. And just because your dreams don't work out perfectly, doesn't mean they'll never happen. It just means your journey looks like this:
Just remember. I believe in you. And if you need someone to talk to, I'm a good listener. I can also share my own misadventure stories, if that will help you feel better. We can also talk about how to make a game plan to get you on track to where you want to go.
Also, I promise that…
I will encourage and uplift you every chance I can get.
Stop kicking yourself. Sometimes, we can be our own worst enemies. Take that negative little voice in the back of your head, the one that tells you you're not good enough and that you'll never amount to anything, and stuff it in a closet under your ear. Then shove a dresser and a sofa in front of that closet and forget it's there. If you're having difficulty with this, let me know, and I'll help you move the furniture, figuratively speaking.
Sometimes, this means I'll kick (metaphorically) your butt up whatever mountain you're trying to climb, whether it's that essay you're trying to write or just getting yourself out of bed in the morning and off to school. (I can totally schedule and assignment just for you in Google Classroom titled “WAKE UP!” Download the Google Classroom app and you'll get a push notification. Or, you could just set an alarm. Just saying'…)
You all have a special place in my heart. And if I've ever had to call you out into the hallway to redirect your behavior, redirect you a bazillion times in class, rest assured, I will never forget you.
I love you.
*Names have been changed.
I am a secondary English Language Arts teacher, a University of Oklahoma student working on my Master's of Education in Instructional Leadership and Academic Curriculum with an concentration in English Education, and a NBPTS candidate. I am constantly seeking ways to amplify my students' voices and choices.