As a teacher, I understand the importance of teaching my students the standard based curricula that my school district chooses. Whatever it may be; writing an opinion essay, decomposing mixed numbers into improper fractions or understanding systems of living organisms, I am trusted to follow the books, so to speak. But, before my students can learn anything from me, they need to know that I care about them, as a person.
If I could teach standard based curricula to students who come from two parent “stable” homes, whose brains are not distracted by the numerous diversions presented on social media, and are eager to learn, their test scores would be incredible, and my administrator would be greatly impressed. But that kind of student is rare.
Instead, the child who enters my classroom has already experienced some degree of trauma such as parents who are divorced, a single parent home or in a few cases, no parents at all. Also, by fourth grade, most of my students have already been inundated by social media and their interest in learning is at times, mediocre. These are just some of the factors I face as a teacher. Yet, I still need to be fully aware, fully attuned and completely determined to teach each of my students regardless of any one students’ circumstances.
Then there are those really special students. These are the ones whose defenses run so high and whose walls are so thick that you wonder if you will ever earn their trust, let alone teach them to write an opinion essay. What I’ve discovered these students need the most is a listening ear, a tender heart, and a big dose of understanding. Academics will have to wait for another year.
Forcing these students to learn too much of anything is like trying to nail a poached egg to a tree. It is impossible. Instead, what I teach these students is that I will be a constant in their lives. I will be someone they can pour out their complaints to, and maybe even be able to help them.
Earning their trust is not easy, but once they discover that I am a constant, they begin to also see that I care. Any child knows the difference between someone who is genuine and someone who is disingenuous.
For example, the other day, the music teacher called my room and asked if he could send one of my “special” students back to me. As much as I enjoy the planning time I get when I send my students to music, I told him, yes, send N. back to me.
When she arrived, it was apparent that she was miffed. I asked her to sit with me and tell me what was wrong. She spilled out her story with vehemence. Then I asked if she was willing to tap out her annoyance with me. Tapping is a technique I’ve learned that helps to diffuse students whose systems become flooded with strong emotions. Her level of annoyance was at a 5 she told me. After tapping through one round she said her annoyance was down to 2. One more round brought it down to zero.
In a short amount of time, my overcharged student became calm and pleasant. Though she still lacks the ability to learn the academics required of fourth graders, she has learned that there is at least one constant adult in her life who cares.
Why bother being a constant? Sometimes being the one constant in a child’s life is the most important thing you can be for them. Everything else will just have to wait.