It’s all about the relationships that we build while we have the children in our classroom. Build relationships, that is the key to their success. I do not disagree with the “relationship movement” one bit. In fact many of us have been stressing the importance of relationships for years. This was one of the first things we were told to do, day 1.
I began teaching 21 years ago. A lot has changed in education over that course of time. I started out as a 9th grade special education teacher in IN. My students were placed in a “levels” classroom. Basically, they required the most consistent & structured behavioral support classroom in which a mainstream school could service them. Wow, I sure did learn a great deal that year! The first lesson and the most valuable lesson that I learned was from our Assistant Director of Special Education, for Richmond Community Schools Pam Hilligoss. She taught me that the very first thing I needed to do with my students was to build a rapport & establish a genuine relationship. Granted, this was not always the easiest thing to do, especially when a child was having a rough day, but that relationship meant the difference between making it through the next hour or that child being sent home…yet again. Hence, burning another bridge in their history of bridges with adults & school personnel.
Later that first year, I transferred to our district’s Day Treatment Program. Here, I felt I could have a more direct impact on the children in our community. In other words, I could “make a difference”. I would have a little more flexibility there than I did at the high school. I would have children from all grade levels & Pam Hilligoss would be my immediate supervisor.
Our program grew in the 8 yrs that I taught there. I so enjoyed watching students coming in our doors & helping them overcome many academic, emotional & behavioral challenges. Our team worked to transition them back to their home-schools. I would be lying if I said that we did not have some stumbling blocks & some children returned to us. That is ok, we would pick-up where they child left off & move forward.
I decided to make a career move 13 years ago. I left special education and went into a regular ed classroom in an elementary school in NC. My experience, along with the stress on the importance of rapport building as well as relationships with students & their families followed me. Like I stated earlier, this is one of the most valuable lesson I have learned. It makes a world of difference inside & outside the classroom.
I keep in contact with Pam, several of my colleagues from IN and I have former students from IN who are finding me on social media. They are wanting to “check-in” and let me know their successes. Got to love that!
I was informed last evening that one of my former students was shot & killed yesterday. I wept. I still saw him as a young boy of 9. He was so excited when we took our 1st trip to the zoo. You see, he had never been. We had gotten special permission to go as a school & they had found funding for us. It was a lifetime experience for him. We live for these moments as teachers.
It broke my heart when I heard this information. The minute details do not matter. What mattered to me was a young man was no longer with us. Whatever the circumstances, choices, etc. leading up to that exact moment… He was/is one of “my” kids.
As teachers, we have no control over our students’ lives outside of school. We can only control their experiences while they are with us. A prayer that I continue to pray year after year & day after day is that: We, teachers can make a difference to someone, somewhere.
Pam, my former administrator, and I texted for a while that evening. He was one of her kids too. She shared, “As an educator you never know when your student realizes or benefits from their interaction with us. If nothing else, our students believed that they were cared for regardless of their behavior.”
So yes, when I learned that the rapport and relationship that you established and built with a student was vital to their academic, emotional and behavioral growth, that was one of the most valuable lessons that I obtained in my educational career.
That is why some 13 years later, I am shedding tears for my former student and the experiences that he is not going to be able to have. That is why I am praying for his family & friends. That is why we continue to work to make differences and build relationships with those we come in contact with in the future.
Relationships, what an essential ingredient to students’ success.