Every year I anticipate the start of school. My favorite part of this job is always the students. I’m anxious to get to know my new students. I’m curious to see which of my previous year’s students I get to teach again, since I teach multiple grades. I can’t wait to connect with the students in their writing and in our class discussions. I look forward to seeing and appreciating all the different personalities and learning styles. I know that by the semester break, I will have bonded with them, raging hormones, idiosyncrasies, and all. (Like most teachers, that connection with students is long-lasting. They are my kids even when they are having their own kids.)
This year, however, I feel my student radar is at an all time high. Last year’s spring semester was difficult for me emotionally. I lost one current student to cancer. I lost two former students to suicide. One of those suicides directly resulted in another former student having a serious breakdown. (She is recovering slowly.)
For years, I have railed against the ridiculous over-testing of our students. I remind them that these tests are “one test on one day of their entire lives”. I have taught them that writing is a form of expression, not testing. That reading should be about discovering, not answering “gotcha” questions. I have tried to bring excitement and relevance back into my classroom. To help them see the value of reading and writing in a world with emojis and text speak.
So, as I anticipate this year’s students, I’m even more compelled to get to know them as people, not just students. To spend time discussing more than answers to textbook questions or current events, but also to discuss the emotions and thinking behind the answers. To help them realize there’s more to education than grades and test scores, no matter what “they” say. To let them know that they are not alone, whatever they may be struggling with. To show them they do have some choice and control, if they are willing to be responsible with it. To help them see their own worth as thinking, feeling people. To focus on being in this all together, not just as teacher and students, but also as human beings.
I know for many of my colleagues, morale is at a very low point. I also know that most of my colleagues will do their best to not let that affect their students. And so I hope that you, my colleagues, join me in this endeavor. However you need to do it, whatever you need to do, please find the energy and emotional intelligence to be human with your students. You never know when one of your kids is going to need it.
Michelle Hamlyn, local public school teacher in Tampa Bay.