As my first year of teaching moves forward, I am beginning to see the impact of relationships I have with my students. We all know from personal experience and moving stories we’ve heard that a relationship between a child with few resources and a teacher or coach who can provide some stability can affect the course of that student’s life. To me, it sounded wonderful, and it was a goal I aspired to, but when I had to worry about the everyday nuts and bolts of teaching language arts and running a classroom, many of those hazy aspirations flew out the window. I started seeing every day as a battle to be fought, both academically and morally.
It is important for my classroom to be built on routines that the students can count on. The classroom runs on procedural and teaching strategies for building grammar, spelling, reading, and writing skills. Beyond these rules and routines, though, we are a living group of people who have to meet together every day and function in a positive way to build each other up and meet our goals. For example, I now make a point of having students replace negative comments, even those said in jest, with positive statements about others. Even when it begins as an awkward formality, the atmosphere of the classroom slowly changes and new habits begin to form, at least inside the classroom. I also see this as part of building that second set of rules that students can then choose to use.
I realized the way relationships were forming, too, over the Christmas break. I welcomed the opportunity to step back and think instead of running in survival mode, and I realized shortly before it was time to return to school that I missed my students. I had been focusing so much on getting through each day, finding ways to get my students to understand concepts they would be tested on, and—most of all—classroom management issues (first-year here!), that I hadn’t noticed how much I was getting to know the students and how much I cared. As we’ve been approaching the writing TAKS test, I am in a privileged position of getting to know them even more through their writing. Even students who struggle through other skills and multiple choice assessments surprise me with their ability and desire to express themselves when given the open-ended opportunity.
As my classroom management skills have improved through the school year, I more often am able to take a moment or two to pull individual students aside and have a conversation about what each of us can do to improve the learning experience. I truly treasure getting to know them, and I care very much about their continued success after they leave my classroom. I can see that having this motivation inspires me to do my job better and to give them tools they need beyond the seventh grade. Research such as that cited in Chapter 9 of A Framework for Understanding Poverty tells me that it is making a difference in my students’ lives as well.