Guest Post by Rena Long, Social Studies teacher at Lake Ridge High School in Mansfield, Tx.
After teaching in the same district for nearly 15 years, my family moved to a new city. Leaving your home behind is tough, but unpacking boxes was like taking a stroll down memory lane. Tucked away in a box of my school things was a large plastic jar of folded origami wishing stars. I thought of the middle school girl who folded each of those stars so many years ago. She was a student of mine during my first years of teaching. She painstakingly folded each one as a wish that we would see one another again. Now, those stars are a reminder of the impact I had on her. The bonds and relationships I have built throughout my years of teaching are a valuable part of my life. It is what drives me to work every morning.
As I get older, my desire to be in the classroom has gotten stronger. Many of my colleagues have moved out of the classroom to pursue other opportunities, however, I never thought twice about staying in the classroom because it is where I am meant to be. Some people would say that the most important thing we can teach students is content, but this is not true. The most important thing we can teach students is that someone really cares about them for who they are. We teach them that what they say and do matters. They are valuable to the school climate and the world waiting for them. They will take this new esteem and keep it with them. We show these students what they can be by building trusting relationships with them.
Learning how to have relationships with people of different backgrounds is a valuable skill. If we want our students to learn and perform well on assessments, and in their future careers, they have to feel important. I start each year by really getting to know my students. I learn their names, give silly questionnaires, play games, and tell them about myself. By putting them at the forefront of learning, I create a classroom environment built on understanding one another. They learn I have high expectations for them academically and socially. We have a mutual respect and with that comes an atmosphere of understanding diversity, risk-taking, and self-discipline. It is only after building a family atmosphere in the classroom that I see students strive for success. It is one thing to teach content filled lessons, but seasoned educators know that doesn’t work unless the students have the desire to learn and grow. The focus is on our commonalities as individuals and as a class and the successes, we will reach together. It is human nature to work harder to impress someone that you care about and like being around.
Through the years, I have seen shifts in the classroom. Students want to connect with learning through interaction that includes current trends in technology. I can interact with them through the same mediums they use to interact with one another. I speak their language: I stay connected with my students by sending out messages via Remind (a free service for messaging students.) I have a professional twitter account that I use to tweet my student’s information about college, study habits, sleep habits, and content-related current events. We play games in the classroom as review through Kahoot! and I post assignments on Canvas. We also do activities that mimic popular online applications, such as “Fakebook” posts, exit ticket tweets, and paper Instagram photos. The importance of staying up to date on the current trends is vital to achieving student buy-in.
While some connections have faded, there are still a few former students I have stayed in contact with. A number of these students have expressed appreciation about the way they felt while being in my classroom. One of those connections is with a now grown up woman who once folded all of those wishing stars. This past summer, we met over coffee and talked about her family, her job, and her successes since the time she spent in my classroom. We reminisced about some of the memories we shared. Meeting with her was like opening a memory box all its own. Reconnecting with her allowed me to see the amazing and interesting adult she turned into, and I’m fortunate to have met her all those years ago. My wish to make a difference in the lives of my students has come true and I will continue to strive to make meaningful connections in my classroom.