Every school and every district is different in their desire for you to relationship-build with your students. While some stress the importance of relationships and even provide Professional Development to teach you how to care, others will discourage relationships altogether. Considering the recent press about the idiots that just happen to be in our profession, we do have to be cautious in the communications we make in our classrooms. We have to be clear about our intentions, and we must know our boundaries.
At one district orientation for new teachers, the superintendent took the stage to warn his new teachers about a great threat among us…Facebook. He went on to discuss how teacher’s careers could be ruined if they used this site or if any derogatory information were posted there against them, whether it was posted by the teacher or not.
At another district, I was smothered with the demand that I form relationships with ALL of my students and reach them in any way possible. Home visits, attending every event, making calls home on a weekly basis. This was too much. It just scared me! After all, when it comes to making relationships with anyone, and my need for personal space, I prefer moderation. It can be done, but it must be learned.
Teaching at each level opens the door for different communications with your students. Let me give you some examples… I do not given out my phone number, my home email, or my home address. I teach kids that would not use them, even if they had them. I have, however, built strong, professional relationships with many of my students, and have my own form of communication with each that works.
One student had gone through so many life struggles. Too much for a 12 year old. And, despite my demanding style with my classes, and often harsh criticism of my students to get their attention for learning, it is I that she chose as her “go to” person. We wrote notes. School policy is to take notes away, read them, and then pass them onto the administration, but for me, it was far more effective to write on them and pass them back. With this particular student, it started with an attitude marching into my room on test day. She wasn’t ready for the test, and I wasn’t willing to post-pone it for her convenience. She sat, the test blank in front of her, with a smirk across her face. After 5 minutes passed, I wrote on a tiny post-it note, “You should get started.” She wrote back that she didn’t study and wasn’t prepared for the test. After many more post-its, and a few quiet tears that streamed down her cheeks, she picked up her test and did the best she could under the circumstances. From that day on, through many traumatic home events, we wrote notes to get the words out and find a solution.
With students at another school, the communication and the relationships were far different. These were all identified gifted and talented students in an advanced curriculum middle school program. On the first day of school, I introduced myself and set up the boundaries. Knowing the conscientious work of these students, I knew they would not be able to sleep at night if they had homework questions unanswered. I agreed to keep my school email account open at home, up to 9 p.m. to answer questions or concerns, especially on big homework nights. On leaving the school, I gave my new email to those I worked with most often, and made the offer to always help them on their homework if they needed it, even though I was no longer there…and, still, to this day, I receive emails from those students (and others) asking for college or career advice, and sometimes help with other life lessons. From miles away, I can still give homework advice and they can get busy working instead of feeling frustrated.
To me, it’s worth it. It’s my job; I am a teacher.
Here are a few old school suggestions for building great relationships:
- Write! Write! Write! Write notes everywhere. Leave comments on their assignments, send them quick emails to check on progress, and use a dry erase marker on their desks to welcome them to class.
- Make early contact. Email, call or use snail mail to make contact with your students (and their parents) early in the school year (or before). If your first communications are positive, you will be a greater trust from all parties.
- Be frequent and sincere with interest or concern. Meet every students at the door every day. Read their faces and ask questions about their day, their extra-curricular activities, and even their personal interests.
- Praise when it is deserved. Do not be sappy with your praise; instead create value and appreciation for a job well done.
- Listen and learn. Survey your students on a regular basis. Use the feedback they give you about content or your teaching methods to adapt to their learning styles and interests.
Most importantly, be there! Through consistency in your classroom behavior, your daily lessons, and your high expectations, students will learn that you care and that you will be there if they need you. Those are the relationships you want to build in the middle school classroom!