It’s the middle of the school year. At this point, the enthusiasm that started your year may have waned a bit, dimmed by a combination of weariness and reality. After all, you know your students quite well by now. You know who is eager to comply and who is a behavioral challenge. The academic achievers have risen to the top, and you have identified those in need of academic help. You even know which students shouldn’t be seated near each other because they never get along or because they get along too well.
But here’s the first question: What else do you know about your students? Not a question about your class as a group, it’s about your students as individuals, their personalities, character, talents, abilities and, yes, even their individual faults and flaws. It’s a question about who they are individually. Requiring you to consider not only how much you already know about each of your students, it’s also about how interested you are in discovering these traits.
And while you’re contemplating that, here’s the second question: What do you think of your students? Be honest. It’s an opportunity to examine whether the details you know about each student draw you to them or repel you, whether they broaden your understanding of your students as individuals or simply serve as minor details on the periphery of learning. Let that percolate in your mind for a little while, pondering your real opinions of your students. Then assess whether you use these details as a basis for camaraderie between you and each student, or as reasons for keeping them at arm’s length.
Now here’s the final question: Does all this matter? If teaching is solely about educating students, then maybe we don’t need to know our students individually. Ensuring that they acquire new information each day satisfies that goal. What we know and think of our students don’t even fit into that paradigm, which would mean there’s no need to consider any of this.
However, there’s so much more to education than the mere acquisition of information.
So, the answer to that final question is an emphatic “yes” because we educate the whole child. That means we also know and care about the whole child. We see their potential, not only their shortcomings. We value each student and what each brings to our classrooms. We resist the urge to disregard students we deem challenging, difficult or simply irritating.
Students know what we think of them. We need to be equally aware. It’s incumbent on us to get to know them, to understand them, to care about who they are and who they hope to be. Therein lies the difference between midyear angst and midyear exhilaration.
So the first two questions matter, and matter a great deal. What we know and think of our students determines whether we relate to them, how we interact with them and, ultimately, whether they can learn from us. As with any situation, we educators enjoy education more and put in greater effort when we know and care about the people involved. So do our students.
If we’re feeling wearied by the realities of being in our classrooms right now, perhaps a little self-reflection is in order. When we set out to know our students—genuinely know who they are in all their facets—we begin to care about who they are as well. And when we care, we build relationships with them, we see the best in them and bring out the best in them. That’s what we would do for our own children. Our students deserve just as much.