As a teacher, you’ll have a new set of young brains and hearts to work with every year. Eventually they will move on to other grades and teachers, but their memories of you will stay with them.
Those memories are your legacy — the day-to-day interactions, the big and small moments wrapped up in lessons, tests and class activities that students cannot forget. As for me, I hope to be most remembered for the kindness and compassion I brought to my work.
Of course, high expectations, academic growth and other factors are important in every classroom. But I think it’s also crucial for children to learn how to treat others well throughout their lives.
When they see teachers using kindness and compassion to make a lasting impression, they’ll be more likely to do the same as they venture out into the world.
These tips will help you prepare them to do that:
Always see the potential for improvement
I never quite understand when colleagues write off children as hopeless or incapable of change. Yes, some students defy our expectations and we never quite see the growth we were hoping for, but that doesn’t mean they can’t change at all.
A healthy dose of patience, high expectation and good humor are the best traits to bring to our work. We will still find ourselves incredibly frustrated from time to time when a child misbehaves or acts defiant. It is essential that you never take their words or actions personally (especially when they target you) and to instead keep the focus on their choices, not on who they are as people.
Speak to personal experience
As an adult, you have had a variety of life experiences. In your work with your students, peppered between the lessons, tests and activities, speak to the examples of both good and bad decisions you have seen play out in the lives of other people. Children love stories, and they love hearing about the experiences of others.
Of course, respect confidentiality (and feel free to change some minor, non-relevant details to protect others) but remember that a positive or a cautionary tale carries weight with your class.
In telling the story, don’t be scolding or judgmental. Merely pass along your experiences and let the students take it from there.
Do something to help
As a firm believer in the adage “move a muscle, change a thought,” I always encourage teachers to not only speak of good things, but have their students do good things. This can be as simple as a food drive for a local pantry, partnering with an international organization like www.heifer.org, or working alongside a community group.
Many children feel like they are “talked at” all day and will jump at the chance to actually do something that helps other people. This is an especially powerful activity for children who are socially awkward, don’t take to conversation well and enjoy physical movement.
Think five years down the road
Our efforts and caring, as small and ineffectual as they may feel from time to time, are never wasted. Rather than see them as wisps of smoke that are blown away with the passing wind, instead see them as planted seeds.
And if you’ve ever grown a garden, you know that some seeds bloom when they want and when they can — and certainly not on our schedule. Our only responsibility is to plant them on solid ground, care for them and wait. Take that attitude and you can’t go wrong.