What matters to students?

Education has changed significantly over my 23 years of service. Some of the challenges we face today are timeless: too many kids, too little time. Once you have been in education for a while, you begin to see that pendulum swing from one extreme to the other. And these days it is swinging fiercely and abruptly! But no matter how many programs we initiate, how much new technology we introduce, how many reforms we endure, one thing has not changed: nothing can compare to the importance of a teacher’s relationship with the students. Think back to all the teachers you have known in your lifetime, in your early schooling, in Sunday school, on the ball field, and during your college years. We learn a great deal from the people with whom we have a connection. The late Dr. Rita Pierson once heard a colleague state that she was not paid to like the kids but to teach the lessons – case closed. Dr. Pierson replied, “Kids don’t learn from people they don’t like.” Well at times it may seem they don’t like us very much, but I believe children learn the most from teachers they respect and who show respect for them as individuals. No amount of teacher preparation coursework equipped me to understand the powerful influence that I would have over my students.

As human beings, we look for kinship in those around us. We want desperately to be known and understood. This innate desire begins early and continues throughout our lives. Dr. James Comer of Yale University states it this way, “no significant learning can occur without a significant relationship of mutual respect, teacher to student.” As teachers, we do that by seeking first to understand our students before seeking to be understood. Teachers serve a vital role in our society. We can be the ray of hope for the child discouraged by more failure than success, for the child disheartened by a broken home, and for the child whose parent would rather buy them things than spend time together.

Guess what? Even principals get inspiration from teachers. After a difficult day dealing with wayward students, budget cuts, or demanding parents, administrators can walk into a classroom to watch a teacher take a reluctant child and challenging subject matter and turn it into pure magic ~ that transformation inspires us like nothing else. We love what a teacher can do! We greatly respect you for the time you invest in developing relationships with your students as you present them with new academic challenges.

Is this job tough? Yes, absolutely! You better believe it is. But is it impossible? No. It is what we do ~ we are educators!

Suzanne Tanner ~ September 2013

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