Kids will not work for you unless they trust you. If they trust you, they will enjoy being in your presence. The longer they are in your presence, the easier it will be to form lasting, productive relationships. And the more genuine relationships you have in your school, the more positive your school climate will be.
Building relationships with your students takes time. The process takes a lot of conscious effort. It involves a million little conversations and compliments and moments of caring and concern and celebration. It includes laughter and sometimes disappointment and a few tears as well.
I spend my entire day talking to kids – in the classroom, in the hallway, on the way to and from specials and lunch and recess and assemblies, in the cafeteria, and at the front of the school as they are leaving for home. I believe that all of those mini-conversations make a difference in making kids feel as though they are noticed, as though they are appreciated, as though they are loved.
This morning, as I took a short break from testing, I headed to the office for the restroom and then to check my mail. I heard my name called and turned around to see Ivan leaving his testing situation in the library.
“Mr. Ramsey!” the boy called. “Where are you going?”
“I get no privacy!” I joked. “Where are you going?” I asked. “You’re supposed to be testing.”
This boy had a great deal of behavior issues last year. His father threatened boot camp. In the meanwhile, my hairline receded another two inches. At the start of his seventh grade, he was talking out, talking back, skipping work, and fighting in the hallway. By the end of the year, he was begging to help clean up my room and literally crying because the school year was coming to a close.
But I know that the kid still has had some behavior issues this year as he was now testing in the library where kids like him were being monitored by the assistant principal.
“I’m not in trouble,” Ivan insisted with a giggle. He walked toward me, shook my hand, and pulled me in for a quick hug. “They said I can go to the restroom.”
“That’s good,” I exclaimed, “because I have your Dad’s number and you know I’m not afraid to call it.”
Ivan rolled his eyes.
“Be good kid!” I said. “You only have five weeks left!” We headed off to our respective destinations.
“And come visit sometime!” I yelled back.
On the way to lunch, I heard a familiar voice behind me. I turned to see Michael, another boy from my class last year. I slowed down, and we continued walking side by side. We passed the kindergarten playground which was already filled with screaming, high-energy five-year-olds.
“Wouldn’t you like to be a teacher of kids that age?” I joked.
“No way, Mr. Ramsey,” Michael responded. “I do not have the patience or the courage that you do.”
I laughed. “Well, actually I have no courage to enter a kindergarten classroom. But to go inside with kids your age? Piece of cake!”
Michael laughed. It was good to hear his laugh. I had heard it a lot in class last year.
About midway through that school year, I learned that his laughter was a cloak to cover some severe depression and suicidal thoughts.
“I remember a writing prompt I gave your class last year,” I continued. “It was to write about a person you would heal if you had the power to do so. You wrote that you would heal me! You wrote about how I have to teach kids who don’t want to learn for some pretty meager wages!”
Michael laughed. “You remember that? Dang!”
“Sure, I remember! And you also had this thing for making giant periods at the end of all your sentences!”
“Wow! You have a good memory, Mr. Ramsey!”
The boy extended his arm, and we shook hands. “It was real nice talking to you, Mr. Ramsey. I’ve got to get to class now,” he said.
I went back to my classroom and pulled the paper we had discussed from the folder in my desk:
"If I could heal one person's suffering, it would be Mr. Ramsey's. Mr. Ramsey has to deal with teaching kids who have the mental capacity of a 4-year-old...one thing's for sure and it's that he has to deal with horrible wages. He doesn't get a lot of money for what he does but he still does it. I don't know why, but good for him. He must really like working as a teacher because he's been doing it for a long time...he has to push students to do their best but gets nothing in return, well, maybe the satisfaction of teaching but I don't understand what he does and is happy about it. Dear God, I would've quit immediately..."
"On top of that, Mr. Ramsey has cats and a wife. I know if I had cats to take care of and a wife and also had to teach, I would turn insane. Having to come home to your wife and cats and doing your best to satisfy them while having to teach over 100 kids and probably more everyday...nope, I'm good."
At the end of the day, I was rushing to my duty spot at the front of the school. I was stopped by yet another boy from last year – Artie.
Artie was a fabulous writer. I loved the amount of thought that he put into his papers. I loved his creativity.
I praised his phrasing and his organization of ideas in one of his first papers – an essay about the second amendment. I told him that I was proud of how he had supported his belief in personal ownership of guns while, at the same time, acknowledging the need for some sensible control.
Later in the week, I noticed that he had written on the front of his writing journal, “I actually like writing now.”
A few days later, he asked if I would share that journal with his sixth-grade teacher. “Can you tell her I’m a good writer now?” he implored.
Then he wrote a modern-day myth to explain the existence of solar eclipses. His story involved giant Oreo cookies blotting out the sun. The only way to stop them from permanently darkening the planet was for police officers to eat the chocolate and cream cookies. The officers readily complied.
I sent a copy to the company that makes Oreos which mailed a response filled with praise back to Artie. His confidence was further fortified.
Now, as I was heading down the sidewalk toward parking lot duty, Artie waved me down.
“I can’t believe this year is almost over,” he said. He was quiet a moment and then continued, almost in a whisper, “I won’t be here next year.”
“I can’t believe it either, Artie! This year has really flown by. You’re going to be in high school!”
The boy reached out his arm for a handshake. He looked me in the eye and said, “I’m going to miss you, Mr. Ramsey.”
“I’m going to miss you too, Artie. You are going to be great in high school! But you’d better come back and visit sometime!”
We shook hands again and headed off our separate ways.
Copyright, Tim Ramsey, 2019.