This blog post has been brewing for quite a while, but I wasn’t really sure how to start it. It’s been sitting in Drafts with about 20 other posts, but it’s time to put it out there. Here goes…
It makes me sad that the English language has so few words to describe “love.” I can tell a friend, “Hey, I love you.” That doesn’t mean romantic love, but it’s the same term. More options: adore, captivated by, idolize, enamored of, etc. None of these really speaks equally to the love of a child, a significant other, a friend, or a sibling. I think many of us get caught up in the terminology and are actually afraid to use the word, “love,” because of that fact.
Over the last school year, I have thought about this word many, many times. My students have told me that they love learning… that they love our school… that they love the Space Unicorns song/video.
In conversations with parents, teachers, and friends, I often say how much I love my students. Then I realize also that I love all the kids at our school. It’s like this little community that is really more like a family. And THAT… that makes me think about other schools, other teaching experiences I’ve had, and what ALL kids really need. It also makes me wonder how many times I have told my students directly that I love them. They are MY kids!
Our students need us to love them. Even those kids who are really difficult to like sometimes (or all the time) need our love.
The “SO WHAT:”
Love means understanding that today might not be the best learning day… that just getting to school in one piece was a major accomplishment… that those two sentences eked out after 30 minutes might be all she can write today… that there are other very important things he’s going through, and finding equivalent fractions is not on top of his priority list right this moment.
When you really know your students – your kids – you understand what works and what doesn’t work. You understand their motives. You know their passions. You care more about their emotional well-being. You hurt alongside them when they hurt. You love them. You learn to trust each other. When you love your students, you learn with them.
“Sure, Michelle. You have a maximum of 12 kids in your class. It’s easy to get to know them and love them.”
Right. I get that. And while the focus of this post is NOT about class size, it is important. In the name of efficiency in time and money, we have poured kids into fact factories instead of learning environments. In my last school, I had over 440 students. I didn’t know a lot of them well enough to know what really made them tick… or why some of them were easier to love at times. Did I love all of them enough to make a difference? I’d like to think so, but I’m doubtful.
My first few years of teaching 20 years ago… I was there to make sure the kids learned x, y, z, and I was going to shape them up and MAKE them learn. In my opinion at the time, misbehavior was about laziness, lack of discipline, or just plain rotten kids. As I sat and listened to their stories of home, their dreams, their heartbreaks, however, I became more sympathetic. For years, I struggled with how I was taught to deal with “problem children” versus what my heart wanted for them. I admit that I failed as a teacher in so many ways then. It wasn’t really until my own children started going to school that I began to understand what kids really need to learn.
In teaching, and almost any other profession, they won’t care how much you know until they know how much you care. *
I would even go so far to say that they won’t care how much THEY learn until they know how much you care. Isn’t the word “care” synonymous with “love?”
And what about those kids that are very difficult to like? How can you love a child who is defiant, angry, uncooperative, etc.? My own children have been all of these things (and more) many times as they’ve grown up… that doesn’t mean I love them any less. Isn’t this one of our greatest challenges as educators? These are the kids that need our love even more. When I lose patience with a child, I lose the opportunity to connect to something deeper about that child – that one thing that might help that child persevere. I need to be patient and persevere along with her.
I’m not great at being patient, but I know I’m getting better because it matters. It matters to kids who need me to know them well enough to move past the behavior to the child inside.
How many of you get to spend enough time with your students to really get to know them? To understand why they seem happy/angry all the time? To know what is important to them? To know their struggles? their successes?
I don’t think this is a necessarily a problem that teachers solve on their own… I think that schools should be completely redesigned from the ground up, including how they’re funded… but that’s another blog post.
So, what’s the next step? What’s the “Now What?”
If it all comes down to love, what one thing can you do (or are already doing) to help your students know that you care about them… that you love them?
*I don’t know the source of that quote… would be grateful to anyone who could share that with me!