Saturday, December 31, 2016

Relationships Beyond the Classroom

Sometimes the best days of a teacher are not in the classroom.

My Day In the Life post came about over school break, so I didn’t have a classroom experience today, but I did have a great teacher experience today.

In my second year of teaching, I had some tremendous students.  One of whom was new to not only our town, but our state and region as a whole.  I teach in New England, and her family had moved from Michigan.  They were what I called “Midwest Nice”, with an outlook and temperament that is not native to the Boston area.  Everything they did was as a family, there was love and support and encouragement at every turn, and in general it was the type of environment you would wish for all of your students.  The young woman was not a strong math student, but her work ethic was tremendous, and there was never a question that she was giving her all.  I continued to help her before school throughout the 8th grade, and told her that if she ever needed more support in high school, she knew where to find me.

That summer, I was in setting up my classroom when her mother came to see me, as I was set to have her younger sister that year.  When I asked how K was doing, it was not the answer I ever wanted or expected.  There had a been a severe and prolonged bullying incident, that had began at the end of 8th grade and got worse over the summer, to the point where she would not be attending the high school in the fall, but rather, would be homeschooled until a new situation was found.  I immediately offered my services.  She enrolled in classes at a local community college for a year, and I was there to help her, and then the next year she attended a private high school, eventually graduated, and began college.

In the meantime, she has endured seven (yes, seven) major knee surgeries - some of which have caused her to miss semesters of college.  And yet, she pushes through.

So, my day involved a sushi lunch with K, now 21 and a confident young woman.  We do still get together from time to time, and I try to visit the family often.  I’ve had over a thousand students in my career, and they have all had some level of impact, but the 9 years I have known K are truly filled with experiences that make me a better educator, and a better person.  In my classroom, I take bullying very seriously, because I know what it can do if it goes unchecked.  I value work ethic much more than any “natural ability”.  I do not view my subject as the only important subject, and know that students may have talents that lie outside my classroom and I cannot expect them to deliver the same results in every subject.  These are all directly attributable to my experiences with K, and I can name a dozen students who I have looked at and taught differently as a result.

It seems like such a cliche, for a teacher to say that they get inspired by their students.  And I hate teacher cliches.  But I can tell you for a fact, that I am constantly inspired by a young woman who sat in my classroom as a student, and I sincerely hope that all teachers are able to have such an experience.  And if you end up having wonderful three-hour conversations over amazing sushi from time to time, well, that’s just a bonus.

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