Over the last 16 years, I have learned many things from my students, from how to "Hit the Qwan", to the correct way to walk in new shoes so that you don't crease them.
The lessons that make my top three list, weren't taught to me by my most successful students, and have no connection to grades or test scores.
These lessons, that were so powerful they changed who I am as a teacher, were the product of relationships.
From my student that was "worried about his reputation" I learned to look at my class list in a different way. While reading through the student responses from my favorite back to school activity, I saw the usual: grades, homework, not having recess, and then I come across a response that said, "I am worried about my reputation." This from a student that had been in his fair share of trouble in elementary school. The next day when I arrived at school he came running across the playground to wish me a good morning. I took the opportunity to let him know that I had read his paper and was confident that his reputation could be whatever he wanted to make it. He ran for student council and became a leader in my class that year. Although he had trouble completing written assignments, when given the opportunity to work on group projects he thrived. He had a great talent for speaking. He was charismatic and entertaining, capturing and holding the attention of his audience. He received high praise from me and his classmates for his energy and creativity, and he began to see himself as we saw him-someone with talent and the potential to influence others.
I am no longer interested in deciding who my students are going to be based on their history or misconduct. I am interested in discovering which of my students most needs someone to believe in him or her. Which of these students needs someone to see the amazing things that they are capable of, so that they will see it too? Which of these students would like to remake their reputation?
From my student that was late for class more often than he was on time I learned the importance of the statement: "I'm glad you're here." During this lesson I found out that my young friend was getting himself up and ready for school before riding his bike three miles, over a bridge during a busy morning commute just to show up. I look at my students a little differently now because you never know what kind of challenges your kids are facing outside of the classroom. It's because of this student that I am driven to make every day in our classroom worth whatever it took to get there.
In short, don't assume opportunity exists, don't underestimate the impact of kindness and compassion, and most of all, be mindful of your influence-it's powerful and lasting.
Photo shout-outs to the non-student people in my life that support, encourage, and motivate me to be better than I was yesterday. I am honored to be part of your team and to be representing Carquinez Middle School as the California League of Schools teacher of the year for our region.