I have been incredibly busy this holiday season and school season, and, well… the season of life in general. Let’s just say this doing-a-blog thing; Teachers-Pay-Teachers-product thing; taking care of twin toddlers, a 16-year-old senior (Senior! Yikes!), my 13-year-old, my husband, and a large class of third graders… well, it’s just flat-out hard. However, one thing that makes it all worthwhile is the reward of knowing that in each of those lives mentioned above, I am touching them and making an impact — I am especially building relationships with students.
Sometimes as teachers it is easy to feel devalued, underappreciated, and overworked. Sometimes our day-to-day headaches can overwhelm us and make us wonder if we are really making a difference. Unfortunately, we don’t always receive the instant validation that we need; rather, it all comes down to faith. Trust that what you are doing IS enough and it IS making a difference.
When I think back to my childhood and the amazing teachers that I had, I ask myself what I specifically remember about them. It wasn’t the fascinating, in-depth inquiry projects, the lab assignments, book reports, or any of those things. (Well, that’s not entirely true. My third-grade teacher was pretty incredible but only because I got stickers all the time. I loved stickers!). When we think back to our teachers from our past, it wasn’t the over-hyped test (oh, wait… we didn’t have them), or the fancy technology (nope… first computer… green screen… enter commands… so NOT worth it!). It was a caring personality. The loving relationship. It was the way that the teacher worked on building relationships with students, the way they made you feel special and worth something!
Sometimes it is so easy to get caught up in our day-to-day activities and the hustle and bustle of being a teacher. It is so easy to focus on the end in mind… that test, test, test! Instead, we need to focus on building relationships with students. Unfortunately, so many children these days are from homes that aren’t meeting those needs. By no means am I saying that you should take on the world. However, as we approach winter break, remember that each kid needs just a few minutes of your individual attention.
Steps to Building Relationships With Students
1.) Greet each student by name in the morning with a handshake, high five, or hug. If you are one of those teachers who have not been lucky enough to catch everything and build immunity to all the millions of germs out there, you can definitely just fist bump with students. It would help you appear cool anyway… not that you need it, right?
2.) Find out their interests and run with them! I am always trying to implement my students’ interests into my class activities. I pick related readings, topics, and analogies. Plus, you clearly MUST love them if you are learning their interests. I honestly cannot stand all the hype around that Minecraft game, but I play it up. Oh, Minecraft this… Minecraft that… It’ll pass eventually. I mean, Justin Bieber did, right?
3.) Use their names in everything. I always use my students’ names in story problems, grammar sentences, test questions, and so on. They love watching for their names! This is something so, so simple, yet it has such a huge impact on building relationships with students.
4.) Leave little notes. We often leave little love notes in our children’s lunch boxes or on the mirror for our significant other. I know, I know. You already have so much to do — do you really have time for that too? I just leave one or two notes a week for my students on a Post-It note. It just says something like, “I love how yesterday you did…” If you do reader’s workshop, the reader’s response letter is another great option! I always write my students back and they love it!
5.) Share your personal life. No, you don’t need to share all your dirty laundry or act as if you are best friends, but definitely integrate your personal, embarrassing, or humorous connections! I’m always amazed at how shocked students are when they see their teachers in a local grocery store as if they don’t ever leave school. In fact, I remember my daughter once told me her teacher lived in his classroom—he stored his bed in the closet! Students need to know you are human and just like them too.
Of course, there are more things that you can do to help build relationships with your special little ones, but these are just a few to get you started. Just listening each day and providing that warm smile is sometimes all it takes. These little things above are just icing on the cake!