I was not a very good student until college. Something finally clicked for me at university and I ended up graduating magna cum laude. However, if you had asked any of my teachers from elementary, junior high, or high school, they probably would have said that I wasn't a particularly extraordinary kid. I had some really fantastic teachers, who made learning exciting and relevant. But, I also had some less than stellar teachers, and those are really the folks who made me want to teach.
Growing up, I lived with my parents and maternal grandparents. My grandfather died after a long and drawn out illness when I was in 8th grade. I had just returned from a weekend spent in the hospital waiting room, and one of my friends turned around in class to ask me if I was okay. Her poorly timed concern interrupted my 8th grade Social Studies teacher as he was taking attendance. Like a scene out of The Breakfast Club, my teacher started rapid fire issuing detentions. I spent a week in lunch detention, but the frustration I felt at perceived injustice and the overall lack of connection I had with that teacher has lasted for years. I think about him almost every time I feel frustration building up during a rough day, during those moments a student and I aren't on the same wavelength.
As professionals, having empathy for our students is one of the most important aspects of our field. Being able to connect with kids, keep in touch with what goes on in their lives, and care about what goes on in their hearts as well as minds - that's what's important. When my grandfather died, the last place I wanted to be was in Social Studies; I only wish I'd had a teacher I could have gone to instead of someone I wanted to get away from. Looking back, personalized relationships have underscored every exemplary classroom I have ever experienced, which is probably why personalized relationships are the foundation for Room 208.
This past weekend, my mom was hospitalized and diagnosed with cancer. Since I live in California and my parents are up in Washington state, it's not an easy situation. Coming to school each day this week has been a gift. Being around my students - their liveliness, happiness - has been good for my soul. I don't plan to tell them about this personal situation, but I will gratefully soak up their enthusiasm for learning. My mom is entering a rehabilitation facility this week; we are in constant contact and I plan to go home for Thanksgiving for the first time in seven years.
Day by day until then, I will relish in the wonderful relationships that make up the fabric of this room, this school, these students, our place. Now, instead of running away from a classroom, I am running toward one.