This week, I was fortunate to have a conversation with a parent that led me to my thoughts on making connections. Whenever I have the chance to talk with parents about their visions for our school, it reinforces the connection between home and the school. On this particular occasion, our discussion drew out the certain memories that frame my perspectives on the role I hope teachers play in the lives of their students. I know education has become necessarily more about assessment as we live in the era of accountability. However, I still believe the connections teachers make with their students, not the content we teach, will be the memories students carry into the future.
In every conversation I have with families about our school, I see the need for these kinds of people as teachers. I was able to recall two such teachers in my life during this discussion. One teacher was my second grade teacher more than 30 years ago and the other a professor and my advisor at Georgetown. There were many years between them, but, as I told this parent, the key characteristics that link them in my memory is how well each understood me – my learning needs, my hopes and my dreams. These teachers connected with me as a person and helped me see them as people. I gained much more than just the 2nd grade curriculum or understanding of Shakespeare from these teachers and that’s what I hope every teacher in my building is for our students.
From these teachers, I gained a better understanding of myself by seeing my reflection in their eyes. As a second grade student, I was able to learn that it’s OK to ask questions, try different things and sometimes reread the same book over and over just because it was that good. When I graduated high school, some of my classmates and I were allowed to select our most influential educator. Most of my classmates chose recent teachers from our high school, but I chose my 2nd grade teacher. That’s how much I understood her influence to be in my life. A decade removed from her class, she still stood out as a giant figure in my life, even if she walked into our reception much shorter than I remembered.
A few years later, I took a Shakespeare class. As we delved into the first of the many plays we read that semester, I knew I was going to enjoy this class. The professor challenged us to read deeply, consider every word and connect the text to the world. This was pretty standard for English classes; what made it different was the connection the professor made with all of us. It was not that she just told us all about her life; it was that she allowed her life to be part of her teaching and our lives to be part of our learning. When she was nearly 30 minutes late for a Tuesday class, none of us left. When it came time to select and request an advisor for our chosen majors, I asked her. Though her initial reaction was to chuckle at how similar to a request to be my Valentine this seemed, she was happy to be the person I asked to advise me through the remainder of my college years. Even though my path was not to be a university professor of English, she helped me see my own dreams more clearly and worked tirelessly to help me achieve those dreams.
Now that I am an administrator, it is my hope that I can help my teachers make similar impacts in the lives of our students. More than anything else, I believe the two most important things we teach our students are confidence born of achievement and resiliency to face any adversity we encounter. When we connect with our students and make their lives as important as the academic standards we teach, we help those students see themselves both in the classroom and in their dreams.