Connecting to students through ‘hard love’

Every year I come in contact with students that make my job one that I would do for free. For every teacher it’s different, but for me that student completes all their work, asks amazing questions in class, participates in some type of sport, and has dreams much beyond what is expected of them.

Throughout the year, I find only a few students who fit into my mold. Let’s be honest. Many students slack off on their homework and think my “style” is old and outdated. However, learning my students are not little robots modeled after me is a good thing. Truly, the sooner I learn they are “missing” attributes which I possess as essential, the better teacher I become. The missing pieces, so to say, are the relationships created and nurtured through some “hard love” over time.

For instance, I had one student this year that did not fit into my mold…

The first week of school, she took a prewriting assessment in my class about a topic she read. The text was quite challenging, but in her range of capability. She broke down because she felt her work was not adequate enough compared to the rest of her classmates. Being the sarcastic old man I am, I confirmed her belief by repeating her own words that “this assignment sucked.”

Shocked by my response and expecting a more nurturing person, I let the conversation end at that moment by telling her she was going to have to work harder to get to an eighth grade level of writing. She left the room quietly and never spoke a word about our conversation again.

However, her actions in the classroom did not correlate with her average or sometimes below average writing ability. From that moment, she was constantly creating graphic organizers and outlining every piece of writing for my class as well as others. Her grades on test were creeping up to average and above average, and I could easily see her reaping the benefits of the writing instruction taking place by her diligence in her work.

Unfortunately, I did little “extra” work with her except when she approached me to go over her writing in depth in a one-on-one setting. Even her classmates saw an improvement as many pieces are read aloud for fluency checks and began requesting one-on-one writing conferences (even if the only time available was outside of instructional time).

As our final summative writing assessment approached, I re-did the exact same writing assessment from the first week of school. Many recognized the reading piece, but could not put their finger on when/where they read it. After completing the task, I placed the original writing piece side-by-side with the new writing piece.

Gasps filled the room.

She looked up at me asking to read both pieces aloud. Our eyes connected and I knew a shining moment waited. For the first time all year, she didn’t earn just an ‘A.’ Most importantly, she realized how much she had grown as a writer and shared how difficult it was to improve.

 In many cases, students come to us with many skills and ability levels, but it’s the love of seeing them learn that lets us push them to struggle.

Even though many students continue to not match the ideal mold in my mind, we continue to aim for similar successes and find common ground. We don’t always see eye-to-eye on how to get those great successes. This particular student wanted it to come easy. My nitpickiness and her stubbornness allowed us to learn a lot together; probably more than I ever thought I could teach her.

Hopefully as you read this, you will continue to allow students to struggle and insist the status quo is not always satisfactory. Hard love is the best type of love for a student.

Not by any surprise, that same young lady was accompanied by her parents to attend a state-level essay contest; her writing is being noticed far beyond my classroom now, and it will continue to as she gets into high school.

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About briancookeducator

Husband, Daddy, teacher, #Mountaineer, coach, and aspiring school leader | Thoughts are my own.
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