When I became a teacher in 1998 I thought that all teachers were in it because they cared about the well being of children. I looked around at my at my fellow students at teaching college with an idealistic eye. We were all out to change the world and make it a better place. Once I set foot in an actual school environment, I started to notice something different. People were teachers for myriad reasons. Yes, some were there to improve the lives of children, both academically and emotionally, but in retrospect not many. Others were there because it was a job that had a long summer break. Regardless of their personal reasons, it didn't change the immense and powerful position we were all thrust into as newly crowned educators. The power to impact minds and lives.
The ability to impact someone's thinking, someone's confidence, and someone's inspiration is truly a powerful feeling. I immediately recognized those teachers that abused this new found power. As educators, we have a choice everyday when working with students: impact them positively or negatively. From the get-go I always chose the route that required more energy and made me more mentally exhausted at the end of the each day, each week, and each year: make a positive impact. To make a positive impact on a child requires a teacher to care. Caring requires compassion. Compassion requires a commitment to understanding the whole child. Commitment requires energy.
The other day I walked into one of my eighth grade student's homes for a tutoring session. She attends a local suburban middle school. I hadn't seen her in a couple of weeks due to her February vacation. I asked her how it was to get back to school after being on a break for nine days. Not only had she been out of school for over a week, but this winter has truly disrupted the rhythm of students and teachers needing to keep things moving forward in the classroom. She proceeded to tell me that she didn't go to school that day. She didn't look or sound sick. I asked her why. Her response, "I didn't feel like it...because I am not liking school." I've heard this response before from students, it is nothing new. Many students, particularly middle school students, say they don't like school or don't like a specific teacher. I always take it as an excuse for not doing well or wanting to work hard, and then I proceed to take it as a teachable moment. I say that they won't always like every teacher, just like they won't like every boss they have when they get into the workforce. I tell them that it is not a popularity contest in school and that teachers are trying to do the best they can do. Let me put this student in perspective however. She is incredibly intelligent and mature for her age. Her organizational skills are pretty solid, gets great grades, and is an absolute incredible writer. Needless to say, I was immediately concerned with her, "I don't like school." comment. In the two years that I have been working with her, I have never heard her say anything remotely close to resembling this comment.
My nature to press a student when they say or act out of character took over, and I continued. She brought up a teacher that she had been having problems with since the beginning of the school year. We had previously talked about the situation when it started in September. My advice to her was to seek out the extra one on one help before or after school from him to show that she cared about his class, her studies, understanding the concepts, and doing well. She tried and tried again. In the hour after school, his class was packed with many other students. In the mornings, there were also several students. When she had her opportunity to speak with him directly, he offered minimal academic help, and instead consistently chose to point out her negative attributes versus her positives, and reminded the student of her obvious strong capabilities. At first, it felt like he recognized her as a student with incredible potential but just wasn't reaching it. He had high expectations for her, which he rightly should have had. However, his continual focus on her negatives over the course of the year began to wear on this student.
As soon as she started to open up about the effect that this one teacher was having on her, the tears started rolling. She had kept it bottled up inside since September, and I was the one that brought it to the surface. You see, I recognize that my job is to not only help students reach their academic potential, but it is also to coach them to reach their self esteem potential and perspective level. I felt at that point that I had a responsibility to make her aware of who she knows she is , and remind that she is highly capable and is gong to be an incredibly successful student going forward and person in the future. I remind her that there are only four months left in school. Next school year, this school year will be last school year.
My compassion for her soon turned to strong disappointment towards her teacher. All I could think of that this teacher, in his position of power, had no idea the negative impact he was having on this girl. Positively impacting a child with encouragement and direction can have a long lasting effect on his or her life, one where the new changes cement themselves into place for good. I have a cache of anecdotal evidential examples. However on the other hand, negatively impacting a child can be as equally, if not more, powerful and can take a student that his heading in a great direction, and screw them up for life. You see, if we interrupt the direction nature is taking a child, and we don't fan the fire and guide him or her in the positive direction that most of them are innately going already, we will change the course of his or her history. Could be problematic. Most people would assume that all teachers care about their students. While the majority of the educators in this country do care about the students in their classrooms, I will tell you that that is not true about all. The level of care and commitment coming from today's teachers wavers from state to state, district to district, school to school, and person to person. I do know that today's teacher is getting tugged in more directions than ever before in the history of free public education, influencing teachers about how they feel about being a teacher. More hoops, more standards, more meetings, more desks. The teachers who care are the difference makers, and most students can tell the difference between those that genuinely do and those that don't. Sincerity cannot be faked or forced.