Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Exceptionally Effective- Caring About Students

As a twenty-something taking Ed School classes to become a teacher, I grew tired of the cliché “students don’t care what you know until they know that you care.”  Fifteen years later, I cannot remind myself of that fact enough.  Rating in the top five qualities of the Exceptional Teacher study, “caring about your students” is an absolute prerequisite for a k-12 teacher.

Caring gets easier the longer you teach.  I have established many relationships with the parents and students in our community.  So when a brother, sister, even cousin or family friend of a former student enters my class for the first time we already have a little “history.”  Even when a student comes into the classroom unconnected with my life, I usually find something in their life with which I can relate:  a common friend, sport, community organizations, etc.  

Sometimes caring gets harder the longer you teach.  This might sound strange, but I keep a spreadsheet with the name of every student I’ve ever taught.  That number is approaching two-thousand now.  When you add over one-hundred to that every year, remembering names gets tough.   I would argue that a class should never start without students sharing their names.  On the first day of class this year I taught a senior coming into our school for the first time.  When I saw him in the hall the next day I called him by name.  I was taken aback the way his eyes lit up and he responded surprisingly, “you really remembered my name.”

We also show that we care by holding students accountable for their behavior and their academic performance.  It is easier to “go with the flow” and keep everyone happy than to hold students accountable.  A caring teacher knows that sometimes “caring” means consequences while other times it means forgiveness.

I’m not surprised that “caring” was near the top of the list of effective teacher qualities.  Several of my colleagues, Lindsay included, sat down to lunch today with a former student who came back to visit us.  A student who experiences a caring teacher does not learn from them for a year, they learn from them for life.  This is all the data I need to know the importance of caring about my students.

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