We all say that, right?
I mean it. I really really mean it.
I got to thinking about why I love my students so much this year. I always love my students; I care about them, I worry about them, and they become a part of my family. But this year is different. I would put any and all of them in my pocket and bring them home. I love them like we love puppies, or snuggling or chocolate.
So what's the difference this year? I've been thinking about it for a week. If I always love my students, then why the extra boost this year? This class is 10 times more challenging than any class I've ever taught, so it would figure that I would connect with them less. Something has to be different with the connections I have made with them and the relationships we formed.
Aha. That's it. It's (obviously) all about the relationships. So what's different this year?
We, the first grade team, knew that our group of kiddos coming up to us this year were challenging. Last year, people talked. The K teachers looked exhausted all the time, and let's face it, K teachers are the best at not becoming exhausted. The final judgement fell when one of the K teachers did not reapply for a teaching position. Lastly, we walked by their rooms every day, always curious about our next group of students. We heard what was coming. We saw it with our own eyes.
We also went from 4 sections down to 3. As with the rest of the states, teaching in Wisconsin has brought a whole new set of budgeting challenges to our classrooms. The decision was made to take 4 classrooms of kindergartners and squeeze them into 3 first grade classes.
We had all kinds of alerts that this year would have it's challenges. There was some panicking as we faced the largest classes we had ever had, with students that we knew would stretch us into the realm of extreme teaching. I knew that I couldn't handle this group like I had in the past, and some preemptive strikes were going to be necessary. What I learned has changed my teaching forever.
I began by considering my parents. Would I be calling home more often? Would I be sending home "fix-it" plans weekly? If that was going to be the case, then I needed to have a good relationship started before school began. I was inspired by a teacher in my master's cohort who makes home visits to her students. You cannot even imagine how inspired by her I am. I had gotten my class list late, so I knew that time wasn't going to allow for home visits; and to be honest, it was so far out of my comfort zone.
Instead, I opted to set up 1-on-1 meetings in my classroom. The kids came and poked around, got to meet me before Open House Night. I had folders with important information ready for the parents. We talked. I wanted them to know me, and know how passionate I was about their kids. Did it take a lot of time? Yes. Each meeting was about 30 minutes. Did I get paid? Nope. But I laid a base to build a relation with each of my families.
I set up an Edmodo account to use with my families. I knew that quick and frequent communication was going to be important. I wanted my families to feel a part of our learning, because with a sense of belonging comes a sense of ownership and responsibility.
Next, I set to working on a relationship with my students. I began with a picture-filled "All About Mrs. M" letter. I wanted them to see what I liked, and have a teeny peek into my life. It became very important for them to make connections with things I did and things I like. I had 5 students tell me at our meetings that they "liked getting their hands dirty", too.
Then came the postcards. I picked up a postcard from Sea World for each of them, hand addressed and personalized for each one. "Hi!" it said. "This is what I'm up to, how about you?", "I care" it said.
A remarkable thing happened, then. I watched Angela Maiers Ted Talk, "You Matter". Her words inspired me to a whole new level, and that's what clinched it. I realized that each student needed to know that I "heard" them, and each student knew I "saw" them. Every day I think to myself as I look at them, "You matter". Not a day goes by that I don't hunker down next to a dozen kids and whisper to them something I noticed them doing, or asking them how they are.
So you see, telling them they matter made them matter, to me. It is reinforced each day. Because I made them and their families matter, they became something more than regular students to me. These aren't just children I spent all day with and teach. These are children who are amazing, and unique, and wonderful, and important.