On the first day of school, after I introduce myself to the students I ask, “Is there anything else you need to know about me that will help you be a better student?”
So, on the very first day of my very first year teaching I asked this question. I got some standard questions like, “Were you a good student?” “What was your worst subject?” “Do you think a kid is stupid if he fails a test?”
But then, a male student raised his hand and said,”Miss, you don’t look like you know what it is to struggle. We kids here at this school, we struggle. You come in here dressed nice. You smell good. You talk proper. You don’t know, so what can you tell me?”
I stood frozen at the front of the classroom. I thought. All the students waited quietly for my answer, but I didn’t have one. I mean, I did, but I was debating in my mind. I was debating the value of sharing my personal struggles as a youth. I didn’t want them to think that a teacher had to have struggled the way they did to help them learn, grow, and transcend expectations.
So, I said, “Look, I could go into the details of where I come from and how I was raised, but would that really make me a better teacher? Here is what I can promise you. If you will come to class everyday ready to learn, I will share pieces of my imperfection. Because honestly, this journey that we will take together this school year will be a challenge. Exciting and interesting, but a challenge and a struggle some days. This is the struggle we will have together. I am not a perfect person. I will not pretend to be perfect. This year, let’s struggle together. Let’s learn together. Let’s grow together. Most importantly, let’s persevere together. If you stick with me, I promise you will see that I am more than the nice clothes and sweet perfume. I am sure I will see that you are more than kids that struggle. Fair?”
The class turned around to look at him. He gave a crooked smile and said, “Ya, Miss. That’s fair.”
So much of teaching is reflection. Thoughftul, purposeful reflection. As teachers we help shape the minds of the next generation.
Take a minute and reflect. What do you want your students to understand about life and learning?
Each year I tweak or add to my list, but one constant lesson is that everyone struggles; those who persevere make an impact.
I believe the greatest teacher of perseverance is the example I set each day in the classroom. Of course it is important to be appropriately dressed. It is important to have lessons planned. It is important to establish rules, consequesnces, and routines. It is also important however, to stop and be honest. It is okay to say, “I don’t know, how about we find out together.” I do not have an answer to every question, sometimes I misspell words on the board, there are even times when I stutter or totally forget what I was going to say.
I have found that the more verbal I am about my imperfections, the more honest my students are about theirs.
Transparency has been a key factor in creating a classroom environment where students thrive, and isn’t that the goal?
Cheers to persevering through struggles!
Don’t forget to pick up the FREE reflection guide below!