We all have that special teacher we remember from our childhood. The teacher that was funny; the teacher that was loving; the teacher that was hard on you, but made you push yourself; the teacher that gave you that hug when they knew you needed it most; the teacher that never gave up on you.
When I sat down to write, I thought maybe I would write about funny student stories, or quotes of things heard in the classroom. But my heart pushed me towards expressing how important being a teacher to my students is and the impact that I or any educator makes in a student's life.
As far back as I can remember, I always wanted to be a teacher. When I was a little girl playing with my friends, we played “teacher”. One of us was the teacher "teaching" and giving "homework," and the others were the students. When I would play by myself in my room, I would be the teacher and my stuffed animals were the students. I'm sure most of us played school when we were little, but my love for teachers and teaching stuck with me through my childhood, and on to my teens. Surprisingly, when I went off to college, I decided not to go into teaching... Instead, I began schooling for psychology, wanting to be a school psychologist. Realization soon hit that it was not for me, and I changed college paths and - wait for it -went into the teaching field. During my undergrad, I took courses and did fieldwork in school, and I loved every minute. I knew this was where I belonged. I student-taught, as all teachers have to do, and every single time I walked into the classroom, validation came over me. I was: 1 - doing what I loved, and 2 - I chose the right path for myself. After graduating from college, I continued my education, immediately going for my masters. During that time, I obtained jobs like substituting, teaching preschool in a daycare, and eventually working at an agency as a SEIT (special education itinerant teacher,) providing services for children diagnosed with autism. As much as I loved that job, a piece of me yearned to be back in the classroom. I finally decided to make it a career in 2016 and was lucky enough to be hired as a Pre-K teacher in a school with our local urban school district. When I look back now, I feel as though it was fated for me to be where I am now.
I have been a Pre-K teacher in my current position for the last three years. In these past three years, I have learned so much about myself as a person, teacher, and mom, all because of my students. My job is to teach them, but they can’t understand how much they have taught and continue to teach me daily. Each class I had and currently have, has been so different, but in many ways the same. The love they have for their teachers is undeniable.
Some days as a teacher are tough. Lessons don't go as planned, tears are shed (by both kids and teachers), arguments occur, outside life affects school life...but those tough days don't outweigh the great days and “a-ha” moments. For six hours a day, I am lucky enough to spend time with 18 amazing kiddos who have the best ideas, wildest imaginations, and biggest hearts. I could be having the worst morning ever, but seeing one of my students walking down the hall at arrival with a smile on their face, giving me a high-five or a hug, and ready to start the day makes it fade away.
They need me as much as I need them. A lot of my kiddos, unfortunately, have a lot of uncertainty in their lives. At such a young age, they have seen people come in and out of their lives and be untrustworthy, but not their teacher. They have seen people close to them go to jail or arrested, but not their teacher. Empty promises are told to them by ones they look up to most, but not their teacher. Empathy, love, and routine are not consistent, but it is from their teacher.
I strive to have a safe, loving classroom with high expectations for my students and they thrive on that. Just this week, more than half my kiddos at some point mentioned how much they love school. This is because school and my classroom are safe places. They know the rules and expectations and see consistency happen. Children - and even adults, for that matter - crave and are successful with routines and expectations, why would I not make sure I have that every day for these kids? Boundaries are known and followed (sometimes begrudgingly…) but nonetheless, they are followed, which speaks volumes. My students know it's ok to make mistakes, that's how we learn, after all. But more importantly, they know I'm still going to be there for them and support them and help them with the mistake. Am I tough on them? Yes. Do I expect the most from them? Yes. Do I make a point of praising them with the littlest improvement to boost their confidence? Yes. Do we have dance parties daily? Yes. Most importantly, do I sit and ask them questions about their lives, or even listen to what they have to say and want to express? Yes.
I always make a point of talking about my family and baby because I want them to know that I'm not just a teacher inside a classroom, and they are important and special enough to know things about my life. This makes for deeper connections and relationships with my students. Pictures hang around our room of my family, and some students bring in pictures of their own, making our classroom feel connected as a family. When I go Apple picking, or cut a Christmas tree down, or make cookies on the weekend, I always share with my class what I have done by showing pictures and talking. I'm taking time to show them I care enough about them to have them feel as though they are a part of my life. My students have a love for my son Liam because I have shared so much about him with stories, pictures, and answering questions about him when asked. The kids call him “baby Liam”. The kiddos draw him pictures, ask me to FaceTime so they can see him, they even save parts of their muffins so I will bring it home for him. When I take a step back and really analyze, I realize what an amazing environment I have made for these kiddos. For my students to ask if they can come home with me, or wish I was their “mom,” I know that I'm doing something right as a teacher. They are looking at school in a positive way, and at a young age when that is a crucial thing. It's tough to get caught up with lesson planning, endless paperwork, and a pile of reports, all while managing all the other expectations placed on us as teachers, but if I can give five takeaways for someone in the teaching field to remind themselves…
Be consistent- they are looking to you as someone who is going to be there for them, you are a stable factor in their life when the rest of the life might be turned upside down.
Open up to them- talk about your life, and they will open up to you.
Hold the highest expectations for them, they will meet and succeed them.
Have dance parties! As crazy as this might sound, kiddos love dancing and can make the day great.
Be in the moment with your kiddos. When stepping into the classroom, don't bring home life with you. It is tough, but if all of you is there in the room, the kids will all be.
- Jenna H.