I loved being a teacher and a coach for 37 years and would have stayed for 40 if my husband had not been dying from cancer. I was not one of the teachers who dreaded going back to school every year; in fact, since I was Varsity Head Boys' Golf Coach, I actually began my school year 2-3 weeks before everyone else returned for the new school year. I can still hear the groans of some of my colleagues on that first day of in service meetings; meetings to which I brought and handed out scads of Necco Wafers to help everyone ease their anxieties with those delicious candy lozenges. Everyone wanted to sit by me on that first in service day- the Necco Wafers were always a big hit.
Just as I helped my colleagues through their anxiety issues on the in service day, I also always tried to help my students on the first day of school. I looked everyone in the eyes as I called roll. I explained schedules, and taught kids how to correctly twist the locker combination dial to get it open on the first try (it's all in the wrist!) I helped the new kids to find a friend for the first day of lunch (the cafeteria is a terrifying place on the first day! What if a student cannot find his friends, or worse yet- what if the friends have a DIFFERENT lunch period!?) I answered questions about how "hard" my class would be, and handed out and explained my syllabus (all while defining the word "syllabus" for most 10th graders, who thought that word alone made the class seemingly impossible).I also shared a part of myself on the first day, explaining how much I loved teaching and making a difference in kids' lives, all while setting up a scenario for mutual trust and a solid relationship with my classes as a group and students as individuals.
Every year, I talked about safety at school, and after the Columbine killings in 1999, I was, perhaps, even more vehement about safety and the sharing of information. (I should interject at this point, that sometimes, as teachers, we have NO idea who is listening to us and who is not, but be assured that at all times, it is my belief that at least ONE student is hearing what you have to say.) A young man approached me early one November morning and asked me if i remembered what I had said on the first day of school. The first day of school is non stop talking, so I was not sure just what he was asking me. He went on to say "You know, about safety in school." I stopped and told him to go on. "My friend is mad at some people, and he brought a deer gutting knife and a list to school. He has them in his locker. I don't want to rat out my friend, but I remembered what you told us the first day about how bad we would feel if something happened when we knew about it. Please, DON'T TELL that I told, PLEASE." I assured this young man that I would never implicate him by name, went to see the principal, stated the information that had been shared with me, and refused to reveal my source. The principal, the student who allegedly brought the knife, and I all walked to the locker. When opened, there was the deer gutting knife and the list. The boy was taken away and placed in mental health care, and what could have been a great tragedy was averted.
All because a student was listening to a teacher who cared about kids and their safety.
It is good to remember that teachers have a tremendous power to influence students and their behavior. Personally, I liked sharing some bits and pieces of myself with students, just as they enjoyed sharing their lives with me. We were not "friends", but rather, I was a caring adult in their lives, who had high expectations for them in academics and behavior. I was their teacher.
As the new school year creeps closer, I urge all teachers to look inside themselves and to step up to be the best you can be for your students this year. Last year is behind you, and it is time for a fresh start with new kids. Just remember to make your words meaningful - "Children will listen." Have a great school year!
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Author: Student Teaching: The Inside Scoop from a Master Teacher
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