Always is a bold word, but as I sit here in my fourth year teaching, I can say that each year I have had that one kid that feels the need to tell me every single thing going on in his or her life. I’m sure a particular student is coming to your mind right now that maybe relates to this. In my class, it’s Kayli.* It’s not that Kayli is a behavior problem, but at times she can be a bit overwhelming with how much attention she constantly needs.
A large focus at my school this year has been building positive relationships in the classroom. My principal showed us a video at a professional development meeting that really stuck with me and made me reflect on Kayli and the other Kaylis I’ve had in the past. It was especially interesting watching this video with a room full of teachers and hearing the whispers of “wow I do that” and “that seems pretty accurate” floating around the media center. Click here to watch the video so that you can have reference to what exactly I am talking about.
Now I’m not completely innocent in this either. I have days where I am less friendly to the students than I could be, and after watching this I felt guilty about those days.
I teach in a Title 1 school and have many students that get shuffled between parents, aunts, and uncles, some that aren’t sure what they’re going to have for dinner that night, and others that are late to school because they had to help a little sibling get ready for their day. Dunkin Donuts messing up my morning coffee order hardly seems like an excuse to be upset with any of my students. Yet every once in a while students will run up to me during math and shout “you’ll never guess what happened to me this weekend!” And instead of asking about it, I’m more apt to say, “Kayli, we’re doing math right now.”
Watching this video made me realize that by saying that, I could be taking a piece of that child away. I have tried to make a conscious effort of changing my answer to “that’s great, but we’re doing math right now. Find me at recess and I definitely want to hear all about it!” It’s still a work in progress, but I think that’s going a long way with them.
I started doing letter journals with my class as a way for them to write to me and get all of their thoughts out, and I actually respond to them. This gives them a chance to talk to an adult and practice their writing in the process. So I figured it was a win-win and was looking forward to reading about their siblings and favorite subjects in school. That is until Kayli came up to me after the first day of letter writing and asked me if I would read hers right away. Something in her voice struck me as being urgent so I asked her if it could wait for the weekend or if it was something I should know before the weekend. She told me I needed to right then so I did. It turns out Kayli woke up to a strange car outside her house. Her dad was out of town, and her mom had her bedroom door locked. When her mom came out to do her hair before school, Kayli saw a man that wasn’t her dad in the bedroom. Instantly, reading her journal and hearing this fourth grade innocent girl tell me her story I felt a mix of emotions. I was upset thinking of what this child was thinking, I was honored that she trusted me enough to confide in me, and I felt troubled as to what I could do to help. I took a picture of her letter to me and I told the school guidance counselor about it and she agreed to meet with Kayli and talk to her about ways to handle the situation.
I didn’t necessarily feel like this problem was completely resolved and I’m not entirely sure what more I can do on my end to help the situation. It did open my eyes to something else though. This girl was sitting in my class expected to answer place value questions and identify character traits in a book all day. How on earth was her mind supposed to focus on that when she had such a traumatic morning? It got me thinking about all twenty four students in my class and their stories. Who else had something happen to them that made focusing in school difficult? What other stories are out there that I’m not aware of? I was fortunate that Kayli trusted me enough to tell me this, and I hope that all of my students know they can come to me. She seemed relieved to tell someone about this, and I think she was more willing to since it was in a writing format.
It brought me back to the video though. If Kayli had the morning she did and came to school eager to tell me something and I told her to get to work, how could she possibly focus on her work? It’s crucial to build strong relationships with students especially early on so that they form a trust with you and feel comfortable talking about things that may be getting in the way of their learning. If students respect their teacher, they are more willing to want to do well for them.
*Changed her name for confidentiality purposes