The One Mistake to Avoid this School Year

Your best teacher is your last mistake

With the first day of school just around the corner, the end-of-summer-overwhelm is here. In front of you lies a plethora of planning and preparing, sharpening and stacking, cleaning and copying. All tasks that need to, and will (yes will), get done before students arrive.

Yet, in addition to the tasks, there is something just as important to be thinking about. It’s something that the best teachers do. You know it when you see it, but it can be hard to plan for. Before I tell you what it is, let me tell you about my mistake. I sure don’t want you to repeat it!

The Mistake

A couple of years in to teaching, I thought I was doing OK. Lesson plans, grading system, behavior management – check, check, and check. That’s when a school counselor pulled me aside. I hadn’t gone to her; awkwardly, she had the need to come to me.

One of my students wanted to get out of my class. It wasn’t the subject-area, or the difficulty, or the other kids in the class; it was meShe acts like a robot, he said, she never shows any feelings.

I was immediately defensive and bewildered. Here I was, trying so hard to get it all “done” and get it all “right”, and now I had to share myself too! When I calmed down though, I started thinking about the successful teachers at my school. You know, the ones that everyone, from students to families to administration, loves.

The Solution

What were they doing that I wasn’t? How were we so different? What I discovered was that my student was right! These highly effective teachers didn’t stop at lesson plans and behavior management. They also shared their themselves and their humanness. In return, the students responded in ways that I wasn’t experiencing.

Three Examples

Share a Skill

One of my most admired middle school colleagues shares herself through her knowledge of origami. During down time in math class, she talks about the connection between math and the art of paper folding. From there, she teaches her students how to make paper cranes, which are then delivered around campus on special occasions. One fortunate day, I was visited with the gift of a colorful, hand-crafted bird. Along with the delivery came pride-filled, and motivated, students. It was evident that, because their teacher had shared her humanness, these children had come to see themselves as mathematicians, artists, and givers.

Share a Story

An elementary teacher (who I secretly wish I could be!) shares herself in a different way. She told me the story of a student who was recently challenged by state testing. Sitting at the computer, hands still, tears welled up in his eyes. Instead of just telling him to keep going she told him a story, about herself. Recounting her own childhood test-anxiety, this teacher shared how stomach-achy and nerve-racking testing days had been for her; but that she had survived. Then, out to recess he went. You know what happened? The student came back in, sat right down, and typed his essay. This teacher’s willingness to share her humanness inspired perseverance in her young student, in a way that just telling him to try harder never could have.

Share a Passion

There’s a special education teacher that I look up to. Students who go through his classroom face numerous challenges, at school and at home. Now this teacher is an avid cyclist. He gets places faster by bike than I do by car. It’s one of his loves. A few years ago, he had some students that needed movement, and a lot of it. Instead of telling them to settle down, or making them sit at their desks doing tiny exercises, this teacher brought a stationary bike to the classroom. When his students needed a break they could cycle for a few minutes, and then rejoin the group. Through his passion he shared his humanness, and met the needs of his students on their terms.

Your Turn

As you spend these last few days getting ready, please remember not to get so caught up (like I did) in the doing that you forget about who you are as a being. As your primping your room, and priming your lessons, make sure to ponder how you will share your humanness on the first day, and throughout the year.

You never know who you might help by sharing a little bit of yourself! Have an idea about expressing your humanness in the classroom? Write it in the comments.





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