I do my best work when I feel connected to my students.
My students do their best work when they feel connected to me.
My students and me? We are humans. Learning is a human experience. In fact, learning as we do in school is uniquely human – no other species has established the structures of organized education as have we, and structured education is so important to human nature that it developed independently in cultures throughout the world. It is fundamentally human that we desire to learn and that we educate others. It is also fundamentally human that we can smile at each other and share happiness.
So it makes sense that some of my best lessons are the ones when I smile and laugh with my students, when I connect with them emotionally, let my guard down, deviate constructively from the plan, and allow them to see me as another human being. When I get excited about what I am teaching, about who I am teaching, my students get excited too!
How unfortunate, and oh so boring, would it be if these lessons did not come until January?
At times when I have been nervous, apprehensive, or felt overly controlling about my students, they have reacted accordingly – they did not necessarily lash out, but they also did not get caught up in their learning; for them, my class became more of a chore.
Of course, students are clever enough to recognize artifice as well. If I try to manufacture relationships and come at it in an overly sweet, fake manner, I put up a different kind of barrier to learning. In such a circumstance students will notice, and even point out to me that I am “forcing it”; they certainly won’t feel like they can relate to me, and that will negatively impact their learning.
In order to allow the space for human relationships to contribute to my teaching, even before December, I spend a lot of time at the beginning of the school year establishing structures and routines in my class, exerting my influence on students at the time when they are still nervous about who I am. During this time my concern is not my facial expression so much as it is setting up a predictability to each day that allows students to feel safe when they walk through my door. Students who feel safe have fewer management issues. Fewer management issues means time and flexibility during class for my humanity to come through as soon as we get into the interesting material of the year.
And that makes me smile 😊
Post written by Laura Vago, a New Member Committee Member and 7th grade Science teacher in Malden, MA.
Follow Laura on Twitter: @LRVago