I’ve got a embarrassing confession to make: I haven’t felt super connected to my kids this year. It’s not that they aren’t amazing or funny or kind or interesting. It’s that I’ve been overwhelmed and discouraged and frustrated and busy.
Trying to cram a massive curriculum into 50 minute class periods means that there’s never enough time to think or to laugh with my students. Heck, sometimes I even cringe when a kid wants to ask a question because I’m not sure that we will have the time to look for the answer before needing to move on.
And in the hopes of getting home before 5:30 every day, I’ve fallen into the unhealthy pattern of spending the few free minutes that I do have with my kids (before class, during transitions, at lunch time) checking my email or trying to nail down planning details. The result: I almost never have an uninterrupted, genuine interaction with a student during the day. Worse yet: I’ve caught myself actively avoiding uninterrupted interactions because they steal minutes from the planning tasks I’m trying to power through.
Then I read Pernille Ripp’s newest book: Passionate Learners.
One of the simplest recommendations that Pernille makes is that teachers give students complete attention, no matter what they want to ask or say. “Eye contact,” she writes, “is one of the biggest tools we have as teachers to establish trust, community, and respect. If you want to tell a child that they matter, look at them when they speak with you. Stop and be present whenever you can, rather than multitask.”
Her words left me convicted because I knew that being fully present is something that I’d stolen from my students this year.
The consequences: I’m not sure that my kids know that I actually care about them. They rarely stop to say hello or goodbye and seem uneasy when approaching me with questions. I can’t say I blame them: Their actions are a result of the “I’m too damn busy for you” signals I send off whenever they try to reach out to me.
Since reading Ripp’s book, I’ve made a conscious effort to make being fully present a priority in my room. Whenever a student has approached me, I’ve given them my eyes, attention and heart. The results have been rewarding: I’ve learned alongside and laughed with more with kids in the last two weeks than I had in the previous two months. I’ve also strengthened relationships with quirky kids who needed to feel valued and seen my students reinvest — both in me and in my classroom.
In a lot of ways, I’m ashamed of who I was for the majority of this school year. While my kids are pretty darn prepared for our end of grade exam and while I churned through my daily and weekly tasks with brutal efficiency, I missed out on countless opportunities to remind kids that they matter.
I’m just thankful I’ve got a few weeks left to try to make things right.
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