Building Relationships

So I have begun my official student teaching as of TODAY (21 January, that is). Hooray!!!

Even though today was the first OFFICIAL day for the university students to begin in the classroom, I’ve been around since the week after the students got back from winter break. I had very little else to do during the day (I was working nights over break) and I figured I should get familiar with the material the students will find on the midterms (you know, that are given out the week I officially begin…so Friday, if the snow doesn’t throw everything off).

SO.

Last Friday, I had some very interesting and meaningful conversations with a couple students–both 10th grade, track three students, but in two different periods. Both of these students are not very active in class, kind of lower-performing…they sit in the back and either sleep or have music in their ears so they don’t pay attention. Fine.

One of the students in particular, the one who sleeps every day in the back of the class, let’s call him “Sunny“, I was able to make a really strong connection with this week.

In 3rd period I ran the warm-up (the same one I had just run in the previous class period, too):

With a partner make a list with the following:

1. Onomatopoeia (give me 3)
2. Allude to a famous person while describing Homecoming or Prom court
EXAMPLE: “Watching the Cleopatra of Rydell High was the highlight of my freshman year.”
3. Oxymorons (give me 2)
4. Describe your favorite food using personification

I had paired him with the student sitting in front of him, but that was probably a rookie move on my part because they couldn’t really focus on the task at hand.  So I compromised with the two of them–I said that as long as they have two of the four questions correct, I’d help them with the other two (they didn’t know what to do for allusion and personification). They agreed, and when I checked their papers before regaining the attention of the whole class to go over the various answers, they had numbers 1 and 3 filled in correctly. However, when I asked Sunny to share his oxymorons with the two other students standing at the front of the room ready to share, he said he didn’t even have any.

He was insistent that he didn’t have the answers, and then when Frenchie asked him to pick his head up (he had been sleeping in class all week, as it was), he started to fight her on it, asking to go up to the office instead of working one-on-one with me. She gave him a choice: “go into the middle room with Ms. S. (that’s me), or you can go up to the office, but take the write-up…”

His decision: sit one-on-one with me in the middle room.

In the middle room, I ended up having a very interesting conversation with him. He didn’t understand why Frenchie addressed him with such a confrontation (really, she was very level-toned and addressed him quite diplomatically, in my opinion); and I took that opportunity to explain to him that he’d been sleeping every day that week in class, and the following week was midterms, a time of the highest stress level for everyone at the school. I talked to him like he would talk to his friends–like we were equals. I showed him the respect that he felt he deserved.

And I pointed that out to him.

If you wantFrenchie to show you the respect you feel you rightly deserve, you’re gonna have to show it right back to her. Just like I’m giving you this kind of respect right now, I expect you to show both of us, Frenchie and myself, that same level of respect because we work really hard to basically give you the answers to your exam…you just have to pay attention.

I saw the light switch click behind his eyes. We had reached an understanding.

These two moments were so key to me, because I felt that I had really gotten through to each of these young men; I had made a connection with them that I knew results could come from.

This week I was able to witness positive results in “Sunny“–he was attentive in class, and although he was talking with his peers about irrelevant social business, he was still awake, and very aware of me watching him. Then on Friday, as I was walking to meet Frenchie in the hallway, Sunny, who was walking with his friends from the basketball team, saw me walking toward the door, and as I heard Frenchie greet him and wish him a good weekend, he smiled widely and shouted

Have a good weekend, Miss S.!

Not only did this show that he is aware of me keeping an eye on him (every day in class, we make coincidental eye contact because he’s looking around to see if I’m paying attention) but he seems to appreciate it and respect me for it.

I’m recognizing these moments for a few reasons:

1. Because these are the kinds of connections I aim to make with students in my classroom now, and in my own as a full-time teacher.
2. Because I was able to recognize by intuition and observation of his behavior just what kind of tone he would respond to; I was positive and supportive of their needs (“Sunny” was tired because he had stayed up late the night before for a basketball game on TV, and although I didn’t support that, I told him that if he had to watch the games that were on late, at least do something the next morning so he wasn’t sleeping in our class anymore).
3. And because of these reasons, I feel as though I’m not only gaining his respect but I’m gaining his trust which really is most important.

In Frenchie‘s classroom, as well as the entire school from what I’ve noticed over the several months I’ve been there, it’s this trust and caring atmosphere that really builds the important connections between teachers, faculty, and students. Although I know these connections cannot be made so pointedly with each and every student, I know that the ones who I recognize to be the most disengaged, for lack of a better word, are the ones with whom I can really make an effort to connect.

This translates, not just in my experience student teaching, but in my entire future in this profession. The ones who are willing to work for it are the ones who will make it obviously known–the students who ask for help and participate actively in class–but the ones who need the most help are often the ones who pretend to care less. Sure, sometimes there are students who can’t be bothered to change their already ingrained learning interests, but I think it is always worth a try to at least reach out to these tuned-out learners.

The question is: how do I balance making these connections on a personal level with planning, grading, teaching, and my own personal life? It is this question, and I’m sure many, many more that I aim to explore–not answer, because that will take a whole career’s worth of experience–in my student teaching and future career.

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