Sunday, May 23, 2010

PR -- Graduation -- The Favorites

I feel lucky to be a teacher. Every year I am surrounded by a new group of amazing students and I get to share in one of the greatest milestones in their life, graduation. Thirteen and a half years ago, I married the most amazing teacher and now I have the privilege of knowing even more great kids.

In my twenty-five years, I have known many amazing kids. Too many to count. The amazing thing is when I sit at graduation, I always think that there will never be another group of kids like the one that are leaving. To this day, that is correct. The void left by the graduating class is filled by a unique replacement, and although they might be amazing, they aren't exactly the same. Sometimes they are much better.

I had a talk with my Intro to Computer students on Thursday about a bunch of different topics, but one of them was their digital footprint and what kind of legacy they will leave online. The topic of teachers and students being 'friends' on Facebook came up. This is always touchy subject online and off. I have a strict policy of not friending until they graduate.

The topic took a turn when a student suggested that if a teacher and student were friends online, it would make it seem as if that student was the 'favorite.' Which launched a discussion about whether teacher had favorites. All the students seemed to agree that it was a fact. I agreed with them, which astounded them. No teacher had ever admitted it. But, here is the deal, of course we have favorites. When you have an amazing student who you can depend on, who goes out of their way to be kind, or shares a common interest, it is human nature that you would gravitate toward that student.

I do have favorites, but they are held to the same behavioral standard as any other student (and, as my wife says, a higher standard). There is no grade benefit for being a favorite, and in fact, no tangible benefit at all. However, the students who stay with us, after they leave school, are a treasure.

The crazy thing about the entire thing is that every kid can be a favorite. There is no magic trick and no  secret handshake. Being a decent person and doing your best job is all it takes. It seems that some jealous kids get hung up on the 'favorite' title, sometimes tormenting the person who is thought to be a favorite. The really interesting thing about the talk I was having with the kids came after I said I had favorites (with the disclaimers above) and one student remarked "Thank you for your honesty." Which was interesting. I asked them if there were people in the class that they liked more than others? Of course that is true, then why does it get so strange?

So, what's the answer? Well, I am going to keep doing what I am doing. When I know awesome kids like PR and bunches of kids at my school, I am going to keep caring about and supporting them the best I can. . . Because, in the end, my goal is to lift them all up, I might just enjoy hanging out with some a little better.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Being a teacher

A few days ago, I posted this on Facebook,

"Teacher thought for the day..... If I grew up exactly like my student did, with the same advantages and disadvantages, the same parents, the same life, I would act the same way they do. Sure, as we get older, we can choose the person we want to be. But, until we are 'done' we are a product of our environment and experiences. So, show some extra patience and love to one who seems unlovable..."

This is a thought that I believe to my very core. It is something I have said for a long time. It seems so many times that teachers are angry at students for their behavior, and that is understandable, but because their behavior is based on the path they have been on, we need to try to find ways to invite them to a different path.

Don't get me wrong with anything I have posted on this blog, I am all too human and I slip a LOT into anger and frustration when working with kids. However, I always try to understand where the child is coming from. A few years ago, I led a group in my school called the Student Assistance Team. I met and interacted with a lot of parents and their children and the overwhelming thing I learned was that the child is too often a reflection of what they have lived with (which can be positive or negative).

So having said all that (and I do tend to go on), what difference does it make? I believe that good teachers try to reach these students where they are and try to lift them to a better place. Not by making excuses, but by seeing where they are and shifting what we do as teachers. 

One thing I say a lot in my life as a teacher is "try to see the child and not just their behavior." In fact, I would like that to be what is said about me when I retire from this profession (in a long time). I can think of no better way to describe what I have tried to do. Again, I have failed many times, but I believe kids are 'not done yet' and there is always hope.

On my computer at school, along with pictures of some of the people I love, I have this quote, "Together, we will journey beyond the darkness. The star of hope will guide the way." Gerda Weissman Klein From the final screen in the movie "Wings of Epoh".

This blog post is for you PR!