The measure of a school's worth is directly associated with the quantity and quality of the connections between the adults and the children who share the building on a daily basis. Students are more likely to flourish as learners when they know they are appreciated, supported, and loved by the teachers and other staff members they encounter on campus.
It is our job to provide that type of structure for the kids in our classrooms. But we also share the immense responsibility of being there for ALL of the school's children. The adage, "it takes a village," is indeed true as the success of students will exponentially increase with each added strand of support woven into their emotional web.
Sometimes all it takes is a quick acknowledgement on the sidewalk - a "hello," a "have a good day," even an "are you okay?" Such a connection might be the only adult interaction in a child's day. Every moment counts! Talk to your kids in line for lunch, on the playground, on the sidewalk as they leave for home at the end of the day...
As a principal, I noticed one day a student and a teacher walking toward each other on the sidewalk. The teacher said nothing at all. Later that day, I made sure that the staff understood that the expectation was for staff members to make the first move in greeting ALL children - whether they knew them or not. Most kids have yet to fully master that social skill. Some may even keep on walking without responding to your greeting. But at least they know that someone noticed them. Such a small show of interest could greatly redirect the trajectory of that child's emotional well-being for the day - and perhaps for the year.
All of my experiences as a teacher, then as a school administrator, and now, after retiring, as a teacher once again, have taught me that there is some good in every child. I don't say this naively. I've worked with some pretty hardcore kids over the years, but each one of them has eventually allowed at least a glimmer of the kid with potential buried deep inside the anger, hurt and pride to emerge at least for a moment or two. I've been in the profession long enough to know that they all grow up eventually. The kids that I suspended fifteen years ago are now in their late twenties working and raising their own kids. The kids from my high school biology classes of the eighties are now almost fifty years old raising grandkids.
They all grow up. Hopefully, the connections that we create in their hearts and minds today will eventually make a difference in the quality of their lives.
I am currently a fifth-grade teacher. I teach writing, but I also work hard to learn everything I can about my kids and to fill their hearts as much as I fill up their heads. I ask them about their families, their after-school activities, their favorite sports teams, their dreams for the future. I try to learn as much about them as I can. I know which ones are dealing with a death or a divorce or a deportation. I know which ones are hungry. I know which ones need shoes or a new jacket.
I realize that there are people who may see “valuable" instructional time being frittered away. But the contrary is true. More instruction will be possible, more learning will take place, when children know that you know them as more than a stanine score and that you care about them as a human being.
Several times this year, I have been asked to take in older kids who have been place on in-school suspension. Some have been defiant and disrespectful with their teachers and have needed to be removed from the audience of their peers for a while. Often, they come to my class with a chip on their shoulders. Some begin our first encounter by mouthing off to me. I direct them to the back table and tell them to get started on their work for the day. I remind them that it is not my fault they are in trouble and that I do not deserve their anger.
After I get my fifth graders started on their work for the day, I call the visiting child to my desk and slip back into my old principal role. I try to find out why the student is in trouble and then I attempt to help that child plan for getting back in the good graces of his/her teacher. But I also take time to find out a little more about the kid's interests and abilities.
It's not "cool" to accept responsibility or to even be seen talking with a teacher when you are thirteen. But I know that some of what I say sinks in and even makes a little bit of a difference.
"Michael" was sent to me for constantly shouting in class and keeping his peers from learning. During my last period class, I noticed him organizing papers that my kids had turned in and returning unfinished work to kids with orders to do a better job.
"Sierra" spent a day in my room because she was out of uniform...and perhaps copping an attitude with the teacher who called her on it as well. By the end of the day, I had an unsolicited picture from this eighth grader on my desk along with a note that read, "I'm sorry for interrupting your class today, Mr. Ramsey. I'm new here and forgot about the uniform thing. I'm going to work harder to get on track."
"Ruben" arrived on the morning of the seventh-grade field trip. Two minutes with him and his ADHD was all I needed to have to understand why his behavior had kept him off the bus. I asked him to sit at the back table and wait for his packet of work to be sent upstairs. He noticed a large reprint of a painting that I have at the front of the room titled, "The Hug," by artist Romero Britto. The boy drew a miniature - but highly accurate - reproduction of the print and handed it to me when class was dismissed.
The most recent visitor was "Estevan." He had covered up a situation in which another boy had damaged a school computer. He was instructed to come to my room and write a letter of apology and to develop his report on the book, The Outsiders. When my kids were finally working, I called Estevan to my desk.
"I've read that book fourteen times!" I exclaimed. "It's my favorite book. Did you read it?"
He looked at me skeptically. "Yeah," he muttered.
"Did you like it?" I asked.
Another muttered "yeah."
"That book is fifty years old," I continued. "I read it in junior high when it was only five years old. Love it. But I hated the movie."
"We're supposed to compare it with the movie," he offered.
"Great!" I answered. "I can help you. But first, let's review the main ideas and the characters." I proceeded to shoot about fifty questions rapid-fire his way.
"Dang, you really do know this book," the teenager said.
One of my own ADHD-afflicted boys had been listening to the entire conversation. "That sounds like a good book, Mr. Ramsey," he said. "Can I go to the library and check it out?"
A month later, I passed Estevan on the sidewalk as he and I were headed to our respective roles classrooms. I greeted him and asked him how things were going.
"I finished my report," he replied cheerfully.
"Are you still on course for graduating?" I asked.
"Probably," he answered sheepishly.
"Probably?" I repeated. "You'd better be. Only forty days left. Then you're in high school. Hang in there."
He grinned and headed toward the eighth-grade hallway. I began my trek upstairs.
Every student counts. Little conversations make big changes. Maybe today, maybe tomorrow…maybe years from now.
Every moment counts.
Copyright, Tim Ramsey, 2017.