This post was originally written last Fall. I decided to publish some older posts including this one. It's really just for me :)
Remember how excited you were the day that you were hired as a certified teacher? You went to the district office to do a "practice interview" and were sent directly to a principal for another interview. She interviewed you and hired you on the spot. As you took the school tour, you could hardly contain those giddy happy feelings inside. The conversation was lighthearted, warm, and welcoming, but you really couldn't focus. Finally, the principal took you to your room. There it was, your very own classroom!
Later you would find out that you had inherited the "worst classroom" in the school (the old storage room), the oldest furniture, and the "hard" kids, but that didn't matter. You were a hard worker and came during the summer to clean and arrange your room. Of course, you could have left it for the custodian to do, but you couldn't wait! As a result, you built a relationship with the custodian, and that lasted for many years- even as you changed schools and he was promoted through the ranks of the district maintenance department. And since you were in the school before all of the other teachers that summer, you also took the time to build a relationship with the school secretary. The times when you laughed together, the thank-you's, the words of appreciation for her hard work, meant a lot, and she eagerly returned the kindness 100 fold. What goes around comes around. Although you didn't realize it at the time, building relationships are the cornerstone of success. Taking the time to know the support staff of the school goes a long way! The media specialist went out of her way to help you find resources because you taught your kids how to be respectful. The lunch ladies had no problem letting you borrow something because you greeted them every day with a smile and taught your students to say thank-you as they walked through the line. It takes every person in the school to do a quality job for the school to function properly. A thank-you is so simple and yet means so much to the many dedicated professionals who are not teachers and don't often hear words of appreciation. So to my new teacher self, you did a good job!
You can laugh about it now, but do you remember lugging all of those teacher manuals home to study. They must have weighed 50 lbs. or more! Many parts of the lessons were scripted. The manuals had sample questions, answers, and procedures. At first, you tried to follow the manuals.You wanted to do "what's right". But, you soon found out that it felt unnatural for a reason. It wasn't you! Your passion, your stories, your experiences that your students loved to hear were not coming out through the lessons. Your stories helped to build a relationship between you and your students. Your students were able to connect new content to prior knowledge. Luckily, it didn't take long for you to recognize that you experienced more success when you used your own words, thoughts, and questions. As a result, your students grew to love you, and you grew to love them. Your stories triggered their memories, and you took the time to listen, ask questions, and showed a genuine interest. You quickly learned the power of building positive relationships with your students.
Many years have passed since that first year. There are many more reflections to share. But as a veteran teacher talking to my new teacher self, I'd still tell you today to take the time to build relationships. Build relationships with your students, your colleagues, and the parents that you serve. Positive relationships are the foundation to all else in education.