Thursday, September 19, 2013

Those Moments That Make You Realize Why Teaching is So Important


I shouldn't really have to tell you what teaching means to me.  I blog about it enough.  I think pretty much anyone that has spent any amount of time here on this blog will understand that teaching has been a life long dream of mine, and my love for teaching really doesn't have much to do with the actual "teaching" part.

I've shared how teachers are one person with many faces - caregiver, nurse, counselor, referee,  parental figure, dream maker...and the list could go on and on.

Many teachers I've worked with, when asked the question as to why they wanted to be a teacher, don't usually respond with "I just love teaching math" or "I want to teach kids how to read" or "I've always wanted to spend my days standing, and getting covered in white board's the best!"

No, teachers usually become teachers because they want to have some kind of impact on the lives of their students.  They want to work with and help children.  They want to be a figure of trust, love, and care.

I've shared all of those reasons here before.  I've shared stories about how in the past few years I've had moments of pure exhilaration and pure heart ache.  How I've definitely felt the pull of heartstrings from both the good and the bad.

But yesterday, for the first time in my very short teaching career, I got to experience the pure, unfiltered, buckle at the knees, make you cry like a baby situations.  Those that I've heard about but wondered if I'd ever have to worry about or get to experience.

And the answer is YES.

Without going in to too much detail, I can tell you that yesterday I made a connection with a child that travels much deeper than just being a person he can trust.  Or that can put a smile on his face.

I became the person that made a child feel safe.  Loved.  Cared for.  When he truly believe none of those things to be true from anywhere else in his life.  He felt abandoned, didn't know which way to turn, and just...well...needed me.  Needed in a way I've never, yet, felt in a classroom.

The need that brings on stomach clenching sobs that can only be calmed by being held in my arms and reassuring him that I'm there for him and that everything is going to be OK.  The words have little effect, but that hug...that sign that I've got him in my arms and won't let go until he's ready?  It can work miracles, and make a boy who feels like his whole world has come crashing down around him...know that someone cares, and that in that moment...everything really IS going to be alright.

To cry for and with a student is a very new experience for me.  It's not the first time I've had a student have the worries or problems expressed to me yesterday, but it's the first time I've had a student come to me...needing me.. because of them.

And I can tell you, there's nothing that can reaffirm everything you believe in more than a child that comes to you when they truly need you.  It reaffirms all those open statements I've made about loving my students as if they were my own children.  The way I reacted and responded to the needs of one of my students yesterday tells me that statement is oh, so true.  I really do love each and every one of these kids, and will do anything for them to make them feel safe, loved, and cared for.

It was the way I started my work day, yesterday... but it definitely wasn't the last situation for the day.

To keep the feel goods flowing, I got to come face to face with a child yesterday who actually thanked me for being hard on her.  

I know that sounds petty.. big whoop, right?  

But, from this particular child, being thanked was a MAJOR deal.  And I wasn't just given a quick "Thank you for being tough on me" either.  She expressed and shared her pure feelings of appreciation   in a simple way - but for this particular student, in a way that, once again, got my tear ducts nice and full.

This student has her own set of struggles.  I know all about them, and she knows it.  But, not a single moment since school started have I ever taken it easy on her or coddled those struggles.  I have held her to the standards I give all of my students.  I have pushed her.  I have been tough on her.  I've not let her quit.  And each time that she's done exactly what I expected she would do - succeed - I've celebrated with her.  

Those are all new feelings for her.  She's spent a good majority of her school life being allowed to give up when times got hard.  Challenge and opposition are very new concepts for her to handle.  And it's caused some very tough moments between us.  

And yesterday morning, when once again she was on the verge of throwing in the towel and calling it quits I scooped her stuff up, moved it to my desk, and told her she wasn't going to quit on me... I was going to get her through it.

When she sat down at my desk, with that grumpy face I've grown to love, she looked at me kinda weird.  I asked her what was wrong.  And here's the groundbreaking conversation:

Student (angry tone): "Why don't you ever just let me quit?"  

Me: "Because you're not a quitter, you're a fighter and I KNOW that you can do this".  

Student (angry tone):  "But it's hard, and if it's hard I don't have to do it"

Me:  "Not when you're with me. When it's hard, you don't get to give up anymore.  That's why I'm here... I'll never make you do it on your own.  I'm supposed to help, but you have to learn.  And I'll help you learn, but I'll never let you quit.  I will never make you do something I don't think you can do.  And guess what? I think you can do everything that every single student in this classroom can do.."  

Student (giving me a weird look):  "You're going to help me?"

Me: "Isn't that what I've been doing since you came in to my class?  Have I ever made you do anything without helping you?"

Student (softer tone):  "No.  But, I'm not good at math.  I can't do it.  And if it's too hard, I don't have to do it.  Why do you make me do it?"

Me:  "Really?  Then explain to me what you've been doing since school started, because I'm pretty sure you've been doing math every single day."

Eye roll.  Silence.  We begin working, and I begin explaining how to do the problems, and she gets the first few questions right.

Me:  "See!  You CAN do math!  That's awesome...and all I did was ask you questions.  You figured them out all by yourself!"

Student (looking at me with a smile and tears in her eyes):  "Thanks, Ms. [Jo].   My mom told me you were a good teacher.  Guess what?  You are."

Me (laughing):  "Thank you... for not quitting and working so hard."

Student:  "You're welcome.  I'll keep trying hard, I promise.  If you promise to keep helping me?"

Me:  "Of course!  That's why I'm here."

Student:  "I guess I'm happy that I'm in your class, now.  You're not really mean, you just want me to be smart..right?"

Me:  "Honey, you're already smart.  You just have to believe that."

Student: "I think maybe I am.  I think maybe you're going to help me be smarter.  I'm not really that scared anymore."

Me:  "That's awesome!  And remember, if you do get to feeling a little scared, I'll be right here to help you through it.. OK?"

Student:  "OK!  Now, can we finish my math?"

And that, my friends, is a conversation for the record books.  

Helping a student conquer a fear, reinforce that quitting isn't allowed and that I'll be there to help her all the way through...that's all she needed.  For so long, she's felt like she wasn't capable.  And I was able to provide a small sense of security in herself.  

I truly believe there's a reason I get the kids in my class that I do.  They are put there for a purpose.  Each and every one of them.  

And no matter how frustrated I sometimes get.  Or how scared I get about meeting all of their needs.  I just have to remember that I can and WILL let these kids know that they are special to me...that I'm there for them...and I will everything in my power to push them as far as they can go.

Man, I love my job!


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