You hear a lot these days about the importance of building relationships with your students. It seems like a typical education ‘buzzword’, popping up in all the current blogs, Twitter chats, Instagram stories, and even research.
While this concept is gaining popularity (or so it seems), I can tell you with 100% certainty that it is by no means new. The reason I’m so sure?
Because I was the beneficiary of it when I needed it most.
For me, high school was hard. That sounds like a typical, melodramatic high school girl, I know. But between moving between homes during the week and on alternating weekends, being supremely weird, having untreated mental health issues, putting an incredible amount of pressure on myself, and not finding my group of people? It was pretty bad.
I had good moments and some truly wonderful friends, don’t get me wrong. But overall, I was struggling to keep it together on almost a daily basis.
My small, parochial high school had its downfalls, but the biggest positive of all was my teachers and the amount of love they had for me.
My English Teacher(s)
I had many influential English teachers in my experience, but my sophomore and senior year stand out to me the most. My sophomore year was a major logistical issue all around. My birthday is in July, so while many of my friends were getting their driver’s licenses, I was woefully behind. Our school was small, so we didn’t have buses, which meant I was getting dropped off and picked up by family members every day.
Normally, not an issue. But when you have to move houses in the middle of the week and only have one set of clothes, toiletries, etc… it’s a nightmare. As a 15 year old girl, I naturally had a lot of stuff. I would pack it up in a gigantic pink duffel bag every Tuesday morning, lug it to school, and hope I could find somewhere to stash it for the day because it definitely wouldn’t fit in my tiny locker.
I’ll never forget the day Mr. Egan happened to be in the classroom early in the morning when I got there. I asked if he minded my keeping my bag in his room for the day. He asked a couple questions about why I had such an obnoxiously large bag (not to be nosy, it really was that large), and then told me I could keep it there every Tuesday if I needed to.
A weight was lifted… literally and figuratively. I wouldn’t be searching for a secure place to store my tons of items every week. What’s more, Mr. Egan went to my school psychologist about the situation, and she started my journey in caring for my mental health.
My senior year, I had the dreaded Haef. He was a notoriously difficult teacher who sparked the fear of many. Word had it that if you did the play (which he directed), you might be able to pass the class. And his Western Civ exam? Impossible, don’t even try to get high marks because you never will. Not to mention the fact that he had my own father in class, so my reputation wasn’t going to be off to a good start.
What they didn’t tell you about Haef was that he would push you. That man, and him alone, is the reason I could successfully write an analytical paper when I went to college. He taught me an appreciation for beautiful literature, Shakespeare, and first editions that I didn’t know existed. And the Western Civ project? Yeah, it was impossible. But man, did I learn a lot about art and architecture.
My Science Teacher
I don’t like science.
Those that know me (Ms. Richardson, 6 blue science teacher especially) knows how true this is. In my study hall last year, a student asked for help on science homework and a well-meaning student announced… “Uh, you probably don’t want to ask Mrs. G about that unless it’s math related.”
He wasn’t being rude, he was actually being helpful.
I had one science teacher in high school, both my sophomore and senior year, who had a massive influence on my future. Not because she helped me develop an appreciation for science (Sorry, Mrs. Deichstetter), but because she taught me what it meant to really learn.
She insisted that every single student in her classroom develop an understanding of her course material. And when I say insisted, I mean that there literally wasn’t another option. She referred to ineffective science exams as regurgitation methods, and would refuse to allow us to fail. Her dedication to each of us, and her dry sense of humor, showed me what it really was to be a dedicated teacher. One who cared about learning.
Looking back, I can see that a lot of my current philosophy began in her classroom.
My Civics/Econ Teacher
One of my favorite classes in high school was civics/econ. My husband would spit out his drink if he heard that because of my complete lack of interest in his obsession with economics.
But in high school, this was one of the classes where I saw just how important it was to be authentic with your students. My teacher was funny, down to earth, and was just openly himself with us every day. I learned so much from him because he was a human being in our class. And he made jokes of his and our humanness, too.
It was in his classroom that we were always laughing while we learned, and where I could let myself relax a little. Where we had a lot of choice in the projects we did, and we all were able to explore our separate interests within his content area.
He created an atmosphere of fun and reality, giving us room to be ourselves too. Even if we did say something hilariously stupid and it ended up on his podium.
My Theology Teacher
Being at a parochial school, religion class was a staple of my K-12 education. And for most of it, we studied the same Bible verses and religious teachings… over and over.
It wasn’t until my senior year that I met the teacher who would ultimately change the course of my future, but his reputation surely preceded him. Another teacher who had my father (and uncle) in class, who was infamous for his difficulty and strictness. And another teacher who far exceeded my expectations of torturous schooling.
Mr. Herrmann’s theology class was a lot less about the religious teachings of the past, and much more about how it applied to our presents and futures. His class was less religion and more life. We had the marriage project, learned to make traditional 3-step logical arguments, and my life-changer: the social justice project.
He saw something in his students, and his dedication to our school was unparalleled. He was tough, yes, but it wasn’t out of malice or authority. It was, as I see it, because he truly wished to see his students go out into their lives and succeed. No matter what they chose to do.
I graduated high school ten years ago, and I still remember with perfect clarity the impact my teachers had on me. Without them, I wouldn’t have become the teacher, or woman, that I am now. Without their care in one of the most trying seasons of my life, I may not have found success, happiness, or myself.