“Forty-one students? How do you expect me to teach 41?” complained the first-grade teacher in her students’ hearing.
How did this make them feel? Some children felt unwanted, and many years later related this story, remembering the teacher as being grouchy. This teacher also commented to a student, regarding his name, “Where did your mother ever come up with a name like that?” Before this, my dad, who does have an unusual name, had never thought of his name as being different. Some of his classmates laughed when the teacher derided his name, and ever since then he has not cared for his name.
I’ve been challenged by this quote: people will remember some of what you say, and some of what they learn, but they will never forget how you made them feel.
How do I make people feel? How do I make my students feel? I want my students to feel comfortable with me, to feel secure, to feel loved and cared for, to feel valued, to feel excitement about learning, to feel heard, and to feel engaged in school.
In a recent interaction with someone, I felt crushed, and like I had no voice or value. I’m working through that, but I want to take it as a big reminder to myself to consider very carefully how I interact with my students and how I respond to them. I do not want them to feel crushed or of little value after they’ve been with me.
As I reflect on how I can interact with and respond to my students so that they do feel valued, cared for, eager to learn, secure, and heard, I think of my goals:
- Do not laugh at my students
- Be affirming in my words and actions
- Help them when they need help
- Respect my students
- Use their names
- Listen to them, and look at them while they are speaking
- Repeat an answer
- Give them responsibilities and trust them to fulfill those places
- Show appreciation
- Say “thank you”
- Have high expectations of students and let them know
Here are some examples:
- I comment, “Allen just had a good question” or “Kim did this (hold up her work) – Kim, will you help others?”
- I will cheerfully tie those shoes for the fifth time today.
- I explain the math problem again and keep my voice from sounding impatient.
- “Thank you, Ben, for always taking care of getting the doc cam ready for me. That is very helpful.”
- “Ellis, you are doing a great job as the computer helper.”
- “Lana, I want to hear the rest of your story. Can you tell me at lunchtime?”
- “This looks much better. I knew you could do it!”
We were making a word bank for the word “fun” (listing synonyms) and Kayla gave the answer “Mouse!” A very off-the-wall answer, but typical for Kayla – how do I respond? I could chuckle at this answer. Rather, I chose to say to Kayla something like, “Good try. Maybe a mouse is fun, but that doesn’t mean the same as fun.”
I chose not to respond as a fire safety presenter did when she asked, “What should you do if your clothes catch on fire?” and a student answered, “Jump and run!” The presenter proclaimed, “Did you hear what she said? ‘Jump and run!’ Oh, no! That is not right!” That was a totally wrong answer but could have been handled much more gently for a first-grader.
Today as I was leading an activity and Nick was to hand off materials to someone, I asked him to do it quickly. I heard the rhyme in my request, and since we work a lot with rhyming, I said, “Quick, Nick!” intending to add a little humor and rhyme to the lesson. I realized when I saw tears forming in Nick’s eyes, that he did not feel it as humorous. I explained to him that I was just rhyming words, and I apologized for my words. How did I make him feel? Not so good, but the apology seemed to make it better, and as I shared a personal story with him and gave him some positive attention, he seemed to feel okay.
I think of Alex telling me that he was going to a funeral for his grandpa’s hired hand. Alex very seriously said, “He always listened to our stories.” This profound comment from a six-year-old reveals how the hired hand made little boys feel – Alex felt heard; he felt valued. I aspire to the same: make my students feel heard, make them feel valued.
CONTRIBUTOR: Arlene Birt