What superpower would you choose? Sure, the obvious choices; strength, x-ray vision, ability to fly, etc. would be fun, but as a teacher, wouldn’t it be great if we could connect to any student—no matter what?
I’m not wearing tights or a cape (ok, the cape would be cool—but I’m pretty sure the tights would be a bad idea) yet there are days that I feel like I am a Superhero. I am one of the people that students can come to with questions and help with technology. iPad questions, tracking down that one resource they need to complete their project, and a host of other issues. They can come to me and if I can’t fix it then I will point them in the right direction. In the end—there is a strong possibility that I will have some type of answer for them, some type of solution for their issue.
We understand that as teachers and administrators we cannot solve all of the issues that some of our students face, but what we can control, is our interactions with them. At the beginning of the school year, we were meeting as a full faculty and discussing how we could increase engagement and attendance for those students who are chronically absent or at-risk of dropping out. We discussed the possible reasons for why students fail to come to school or are disengaged when they are here.
This discussion reminded me of an encounter I had last spring. It was a weekend and I was eating with friends at a local restaurant, a student came in with his family. I nodded, smiled and said hello as they walked by me and not 2 minutes later, this young man came back to our table to ask me if he brought his iPad in on Monday, would I take a look at it and fix it. Now this student is one who struggles and school is not necessarily his favorite thing but he felt comfortable enough to come to me and ask for help. As he left to return to his family, I commented to my friends how great I thought that was—a student came to me in a public place and asked for help—and in the end I would be able to help him. When I was a classroom teacher, students didn’t approach me outside of class for help, they acknowledged me (sometimes) but would never ask a question or make plans to come and see me for additional assistance.
Why not? As a classroom teacher I felt like I had solid relationships with my students. I tried to help them if they struggled, I worked with them one on one if needed, I tried to establish myself as a teacher who cared. So why is it so different now?
Most of my interactions with students are positive. Even when I have to ask a student to put on their lanyard/ID or when I question whether or not they have a pass, the exchange is positive. I’m not assigning a grade, they aren’t worried about being teased by classmates for asking a question, I’m not reminding them to turn in late work or marking them tardy. Even though these are not the most important aspects of a classroom teacher’s job, it is still what happens every day. And with students (especially at-risk students), these are the interactions that they seem to have most of the time. So, how can we, as educators establish a positive relationship while still pushing students to do the things we need them to do on a regular basis?
I sat back and listened as my colleagues discussed strategies that would help reach these students. Most of the ideas centered around building some type of relationship with each student so that they can connect to at least one adult in the building. I must admit, in the back of my mind I was thanking God that the end result of many of my interactions with students is a solution to one of their problems. What I do know is that each and every one of my colleagues care for their students. They wouldn’t be in education if they didn’t have a love for learning and genuinely want to help young people. The difficulty is that in order to hold students to a standard that will push them to be the very best, we sometimes undermine our ability to create and cultivate positive relationships. It is easy to focus on the negative, especially with those students who are considered chronic “problems”.
Unfortunately there are no magical powers or answers. I know our staff members come to work every day wanting what is best for our students. If it was as simple as being able to fix an iPad we wouldn’t have at-risk students because teachers, by their nature, are “problem-solvers”. The only solution I can offer isn’t anything new—it comes down to doing your best to connect with as many students as you can, showing them that you care, essentially utilizing the superpower that every teacher has—opportunity.
"I once heard a saying that when you're ready, the teacher you need appears before you."
Emily Byrd Starr
Emily Byrd Starr