As we walk into the last semester of school it can seem like we have so much to accomplish before the end of the year… So much to do so little time before testing starts. So much to do before we have the students ready for the next level. So much to do…. In this blog post I would like to you see, I would like you to take to heart at what is really important. It is the moments you give of yourself to those faces that want more than a test score……….
I was an attendee a NETA conference in Kearney, NE this fall where Jimmy Casas was the keynote speaker as well as a presenter. To listen to him discuss the importance of building relationships was more than inspiring…. It caused me to attend 2 of his 3 sessions that day. I sat in the back in the corner reliving what took a huge part of my heart, but replaced it with so much more than I could have ever imagined. As he spoke it was everything my teaching philosophy is in my deepest core. I always tell people that the relationship is 90% of the learning process. The other 10% will come when they know you care about them more than their name in a gradebook, the curriculum, or your paycheck.
But… I wasn’t always that teacher. I was the teacher that saw the kids as the curriculum, the 8:00 to 3:30 classroom, and as the kid in the desk that just can’t stop talking. It took a special little girl that taught me to Love to live, but live to love!
My story ended and began on May 21, 2003 with a student I will call Sally…..
That school year started off like every other school year. A classroom full of first graders eager to learn with eyes facing me saying take us and teach us! As the year progressed a little girl began to stick out, not in the way that you would think to a teacher. She was a struggling reader. She was a struggling student in math. I had conferenced with her parents at the beginning of the year and let them know that she was behind, but I would do all I could to get her to where she needed to be, I thought.
As the year went on this student began to grow in her relationship with me. She wanted to tell me everything she could. She wanted me to know everything….. EVERYTHING! She would come to me and say, “Mrs. Smith…” I would say, “Not right now Sally. Just a minute. Tell me later.” Then shortly thereafter she would again say, “Mrs. Smith… “ I would again say, “Sally, give me a minute and then I will listen.” But that minute never happened…..
She would work one on one with me. Her bright eyes and smile wanting to absorb every minute of her time with me and every ounce of what I could teach her. She had the desire to learn. She had the desire to go further than she even thought she was capable of, but it wasn’t happening. She wasn’t growing at the rate she needed to. So I set another conference with her parents.
At this conference in late April or early May I told her parents that I didn’t think she was ready for Second Grade. I thought it would be best for her now and in her future education if she spent another year with me. Her parents both agreed and it was decided that Sally would be with me for another year next year.
The last week of school was upon us… It was Wednesday and we would be packing up our things in the first grade for the summer tomorrow, Thursday, May 22, 2003, the LAST DAY of SCHOOL!! YAY!!
I had so much to do and so little time (you know the crazy of the end of the year)! I was dismissing kids after a LONG last full day of teaching for the year. I walked the kids out. All the parents were there and waiting to pick up their kiddo or they started their walks home. Sally and I looked for her mom, but it looked as though she would be late.
So Sally and I sat down on the steps of the school waiting for her mom for what seemed like an eternity, because I had sooo much to do, from 3:30 to 3:45. We sat, she talked and talked and talked, and I didn’t listen. Instead of listening I sat thinking and disgusted that mom was late, because I had more to do than sit with her kid during my work time and I had my own family and stuff to get home to.
Finally, at 3:45, her mom pulled up to the school in an RV. I walked Sally across the street to the RV, opened the back door, and put her in. I walked around the RV to the driver’s side and talked to mom again about next year’s plans for Sally. As they drove away I thought to myself, “Finally!”
I hustled back into the school, hastily packed up my things, because I had to get home. All of “this” was now going to have to wait. I walked out the door of the school and heard sirens in the distance. Our town was near the interstate so sirens were not an unusual occurrence. I looked towards the interstate and notice smoke rising in the air. I thought to myself, “There must have been a car fire on the interstate.” I proceeded to get into my car and head home.
That is where one story ended and another began…… May 21, 2003 at 4:00 I became a different teacher. That smoke wasn’t just any car on the interstate. It was the RV that I had, THAT I HAD closed the door on 5 minutes earlier putting that 6 year old into. The same door she wouldn’t be able to get open to get out of. That closed door was the last time I would see that smile. That little girl that dressed up on Homecoming week as the little girl in Monsters, Inc. That door closed on the last time she would say to me, “Mrs. Smith guess what…….” I will never know what…..
You see it was in that moment that I lost a part of me that I took for granted. That I thought would always be there. I lost a part of me that meant more to me than I let her know. I lost the chance to let a kid know they mattered. That they mattered beyond 8:00 to 3:30. That she mattered… She was important.
In that moment I also lost the teacher that didn’t let her students know that they were more than a test score, a homework assignment that was turned in or not, or that they mattered more than her planning time. That their story matter and I wanted to be a part of it.
Sally was one of four children that lost their lives that day in an RV fire. I put her in the RV at 3:45 and at 4:00 she was gone. SHE WAS GONE! She wouldn’t pack up her desk for the summer. She wouldn’t take home all the stuff that was scattered all over her locker. I would have to do that piece by piece. I would have to sort out Sally’s school life wondering what I missed. Wondering with each picture in her desk if that was the picture she tried to show me.. Mrs. Smith.
She wouldn’t finish that super important test, but I could finish the test for her. The test she left behind for me…..
I wouldn’t be able to ever hear her stories that I said, “Just a minute Sally. Tell me later.”, because you see later would never come…… with Sally. But I could hear the stories of all the students to come. I could take part of “my” time to be present. I could learn so much more about them than their academics. I could know their favorite food, their favorite sports team, what they did on weekend, etc. I, to steal a line from Mr. Casas, I could learn their core. And in turn share mine. I could tell them what my favorite food is, my favorite baseball team, my favorite season and my least favorite season, and the fears I have and all my imperfections. How I learn from my mistakes and others.
Relationships….. They matter. They matter more than a 6 to 18 year old could or would ever tell you. They are the root of education. They, like you said, are the core of it. Your core, their core, they matter.
Relationships…. I still get busy. I still tell kiddos that they will have to wait to tell me something, but guess what, later always comes before the end of each day. I find them. I look in their eyes. I listen! The “small things” they want to tell you really are huge! They tell you about them. They tell you what makes them tick. They tell you what they love. They tell you what excites them. They tell you because you matter to them.
Relationships….. They need to know they matter. They need to know they are more than the curriculum. They need to know you are human. They need to know what makes you tick as much as you need to know what makes them tick. They need to know they matter to you.
You see like I said the story begins, ends, and begins again. I wish I knew how to make all teachers see this. I wish they could “get” it in a way that is a much easier lesson than mine.
You see when you spend the last 8 hours, the last 15 minutes, of a 6 year old’s life with them not focusing on them, but focusing on the “stuff” that matters but does it really.. it doesn’t. You see stuff that really doesn’t matter, because it will fall into the right place, at the right time, with 110% vigor and effort when that relationship is built….
When you stop and listen…. Really listen with a caring ear and heart. Their stories will fill your soul. They will fill your heart with more joy and each year as they pass through your door. Your heart will grow more and more until you think it will burst, but deep in that corner their joy will fill you and in the end you learn more than they do! You learn that we all learn and grow when my classroom morning greeting and afternoon send off is truly believed in a student’s core…. You are kind! You are smart! And You are important!
Take time… Take a moment… Those faces matter! They matter more now than they ever did to me! Build the RELATIONSHIP and you will build more than you think!