Marrianne Asay is a Hope Street Group Fellow, 5th grade teacher, mother of 3 fantastic children, and loves learning and being outdoors. Read on to see how she thinks about building relationships with her students.
“We traded classes for math and I went to Mr. Penny. He never liked me.”
My mom and dad kept every one of my report cards. I was looking through them, scanning my grades, and reading comments out loud, while my 19 year old son and his friend were there just hanging out. Some of the comments on my report cards were good, some not so good, For example: 4th Grade – “Math-always playing and never works up to her ability. She’s smart.” I offhandedly said, “We traded classes for math and I went to Mr. Penny. He never liked me.” My son’s friend said, “The only thing that really matters in elementary school is whether your teacher likes you or not.” My son looked at me, and then at his friend, and said, “Dude, you know my mom’s a teacher, right?” A moment of awkward silence followed until I said, “I totally agree.”
The more I thought about what he had said, the more I realized how much truth there was in that statement, and not just in elementary school. No matter the makeup of our classrooms, I believe it is important for every student to feel Respected, Encouraged, and Recognized.
During one of my first parent-teacher conferences, the mother of a quiet, hard working student said, “My son doesn’t think you like him.” I was shocked! I really enjoyed having him in my class, but he didn’t think I cared at all about him. His perception trumped my belief that I showed all my students that I cared. And after that experience, I reflected, a lot! What was I doing, or NOT doing, for him to develop that perception? Reflecting on the environment we create in our classroom can help us identify ways that we can improve. Do we know our students by name? Pretty tricky if you have 200 plus students. Do we acknowledge them when we see them outside of our classroom? Do we take time to get to know them on a personal level? Do we praise their efforts and success? Can we see areas where we can improve? Do we learn from the times we fail?
What Matters Most: Letting Students Know We Care
Students want, and need to feel Respected. The other day, I asked my 16-year-old son who his favorite teacher was. Without hesitation he said “Mr. Hubbard, my history teacher.” This kid has never liked history before, so my interest was piqued. I asked him what it is about Mr. Hubbard’s class that he liked. My son said, “I feel respected”. A 16-year-old high school student feeling respected is a big deal! My son went on to say, “He keeps it structured enough that we learn stuff, but he makes it fun. He asks our opinion on things.” Respect should be reciprocal, and sometimes when we don’t feel it from students or parents, we are tempted to not give respect, but it is vital that we do. I have another son, that probably wasn’t very “worthy” of respect in high school, but I saw a major shift happen for him when a teacher, and a guidance counselor, treated him with what other teachers might have deemed undeserved respect.
Students also need to feel Encouraged and motivated. I can still clearly remember times when teachers showed me they cared by setting high standards and then encouraging me to achieve them. My 12th grade history teacher, Mr. Awaya, encouraged students to come into his room during lunch to help us prepare for our AP History test. He also spent his lunch helping us prepare for the AP English test. One of the essays on the test was directly related to one of the prep sessions he held. He wasn’t always happy, or positive, but he always encouraged us to do better. My third grade teacher, Mrs. Koley made me feel smart and capable. She helped me develop a growth mindset, well before it was a thing. We often need to convince students that they are capable, and help them to set and reach challenging personal goals.
Finally, students need to be Recognized. They want to be seen. They need specific praise on effort, accomplishment, overcoming challenges, and making progress. Sometimes it is REALLY hard to find the positive with some kids. Find something, even if you only acknowledge one well-written sentence, or the fact that they have made improvement, no matter how small. Give them a chance. Be generous with your assumptions about them. I had a rough 5th grade year, which is kind of ironic to me that I now teach 5th grade. When I entered 6th grade, I was sure my bad rap would have followed me. Halfway through my 6th grade year, my teacher mentioned that she had just barely read my file from the year before and she couldn’t believe I was the same student. Give kids a clean slate. Give them a chance to change. “Kindness is in our power, even when fondness is not.” (Samuel Johnson)
The things that matter most to your students might seem like the grade they receive or the things they learned to help them prepare for their future, but the one thing they’ll be sure to remember is whether or not you cared.
Thank you so much for sharing your story with us, Marianne!