From what I remember, I passed the end of year tests at a high level. So, I must have learned the content. But isn't it interesting that for the last 26 years (sorry, Mrs H., for aging us both) I have talked about her as one of the heroes of my life? Even though I can't remember one thing that she taught me.
I revere her, not for what she taught, but for her way of being toward me during some really rough years of my life. I knew she cared. Her way of being wasn't like that only for me. She made everyone feel important.
My guess is that if I asked you who your favorite teacher was, you wouldn't think of someone as 'your favorite' because they taught you the standards. It would be because of how they taught them. It would be because of their way of being.
Seeing Students as People
I was first introduced to the idea of the 'way of being' in the book The Anatomy of Peace by The Arbringer Institute. I should probably give back all of the money from the years of teaching that I did before reading this book.
A lot of what I did back then focused on me and getting the results that I wanted in the classroom. I was easily frustrated when the students would act out or when there weren't engaged in what I was teaching. Especially when I thought I had nailed every part of the lesson plan. At least I had nailed the planning of it. The execution might have been excellent too, but the engagement still wasn't there. My 'way of being was off'. I was seeing the kids as objects that should do my bidding and be grateful for the opportunity to be learning to graph linear equations. They should be especially grateful that they were learning it from me.
After reading the Anatomy of Peace I worked really hard to see students as human beings with needs and wants that were equal to my own. Even if they were different than my own. Even if they were the exact opposite of what I wanted. Even if I had to kick a kid out of class because they were being so disruptive. I could still see them as a person and not as an annoyance who was ruining my class.
This idea changed everything for me. As I have taught now for over ten years since reading the book, and as I have worked as a teacher leader and administrator, I've come to the conclusion that having the right 'way of being' toward the students is the cornerstone to a successful classroom. You can get quite a few things wrong in the classroom and if your perception of the kids is one of caring and genuine interest, things will still be OK. You can do almost everything right and if your 'way of being' toward the students is off, it will be a disaster.
In his article from the Chronicle of Higher Education, Rob Jenkins discusses "4 Properties of Powerful Teachers". His description of the characteristic of passion is a love for our students and a love for our content. About having a love for our students he says,
"I’m always amazed, and more than a little puzzled, at how many of my colleagues don’t seem to like students very much.
"Don’t think, by the way, that students don’t pick up on the disdain. They absolutely do. And my experience with evaluating faculty members over the years suggests that the teachers who are most widely disliked are the ones who most dislike students. Conversely, the faculty members who seem to love teaching and love (or at least really like) students are the ones who are the most popular and, I believe, the most effective."
This doesn't mean that you coddle them or allow them take advantage of you. You can suspend a kid and your relationship can grow from having a hard conversation. But your heart has to be in the right place. You can't be seeing them as an annoyance or feeling like your life would be better if they would just make better decisions.
The student needs to know that you, ultimately are on their side. For the most part, they will work for you if they know that they are safe in your presence and that you care.
The first step to accomplishing this is to never criticize a student. This doesn't mean that you can't correct behavior when necessary, but it can be done in a way that doesn't criticize or demean students. When you criticize someone you automatically create a barrier between you and that person. They have reasons for everything they have done. Even if the only words that come out of your students mouth is, "I don't know." They know. They just don't want to share that reason with you.
In his classic book How to Win Friends and Inflence People, Andrew Carnegie tells the story of Two Gun Crowley. He killed a cop, in cold blood, during a routine traffic stop. He wrote a note explaining that he was defending himself. It wasn't his fault. Carnegie uses this story to illustrate the point that people have reasons for what they do and, in general they feel like their decision was the right one in the moment.
We can meet kids there by trying to understand their situation. Instead of criticizing we should, as Stephen Covey put it, "Seek to understand". Then from a place of understanding we can honor the student as a person, instead of an object.