By Machelle Rogers
“Here you are, Miss Rogers. How was your meeting?” The young valet handed me the keys to my vehicle, and–slightly startled–I looked more closely at his face trying to place this young man into my memory bank. I couldn’t, but I hated not remembering his name, so I acted like I knew him.
“I’m great! How are you? What are you up to now?” He went on to share that he was working at the motel part-time and going to school. We exchanged niceties and I began driving away, stopping to ask another valet the name of the young man I had just left–which I did not recognize as one of “mine”.
As I mused my way home, it took a while to realize that I had my name tag on. He wasn’t one of “mine” after all.
Over my twenty-two years, I have interacted with many students that I would label as mine, though not all of them have been students in my classroom. Many times, returning students work as sweepers in our building, and they love to hang out and chat in my room. I love getting wedding and baby announcements and/or invitations to important events in their life; this makes me so happy.
In my final interview, before being hired, I was asked what my least positive trait would be and I knew immediately what to say: my worst trait is that I love too hard. I care for the youth in my care for that year, I work hard to help them find success somewhere and I make them work hard with me, I work with them to learn that they can do hard things and survive, and while we work, we learn, we share, and we sometimes cry. I am grateful for continuing associations with these students and the ability to watch them become what I knew the could be-or even more.
I don’t believe that this occurs because I am some fantastic teacher or have a magic power over them, but I do care enough to listen, laugh, share, and sometimes have hard conversations with them; this builds a stronger relationship and connection.
I expect a lot from my students and am sometimes harder on them than might be warranted, but one thing they learn quickly is that I care. They learn that I would put something aside for them to listen. That I will attend an event when invited, when possible. They know that when I am hard, that it comes with discussion, fixing, and sometimes apologies. More than once I have received messages from a past student to share exciting news, an invitation to a wedding, or thanks for being there for them, or had to encourage a call to the Suicide Hotline or contact someone to check on them, but I am glad they want to connect in some way, with someone and they choose me.
They and their parents know that I care about them because they have watched me. They have seen me follow through. They have been on the receiving end of that need or discussion. They have sat in my room, just to chat, before or after school, during the summer, or during the day. They have received that note of encouragement or the nod of pride. My students know that they matter to me and I encourage them to know that they matter to others, as well.
Why does any of this matter in what I do as an educator? Because I build relationships- and therefore, students- students will work harder in their learning. We are able to move out of a fixed mindset to more of a growth mindset. Students are more open to trying new things like singing a solo in the musical plays we do, or take a lead on a project, some have extended that willingness to the community and led peer groups to service. Students and parents have returned to say that the time in my classroom and my belief in them, affected choices made in middle and high school- many running for school leadership.
So that young valet worker, though not a student in my classroom could be mine–given time, given time.