This week, I encountered some former students from the 1980's, and of course, we talked about our school days together. I know I have said this before, but I really LOVED school! Although I worked very hard at preparing and improving lessons, grading papers, and working with students in groups and one on one, it was my passion, and I enjoyed the work so much that it was not like work at all. When I see my former students, my heart bursts with joy to know that I was as important to them as they were (and are) to me. And I realize more and more just how important my behavior in the classroom every day impacted all my students through the years.
This piece is for the new teachers who read this blog every week and for the veterans who need to be reminded of this lesson.
YOU, as a teacher, make a difference every day. You do not even realize it, but a kind word, a compliment, or an encouragement from you, THE TEACHER, can completely change a student's mood, day, attitude, grade, or decision-making process, as well as the way that they react to what happens to them each day, because you are setting an example of how adult behavior should be. Like it or not, you are the role model, every minute of every day. You, and you alone, cannot control what happens to you, but you can control how you will react to what curve balls are thrown your way. And students are watching. Elementary eyes, middle school eyes, or high school eyes are on you: your responsibility is huge. Students are also watching the way that you interact and react with other students. And I promise you this: they will remember.
Forty years after teaching my first class all those years ago at Penn Hills (1974), I saw a former student from my first year of teaching. And guess what? He remembered everything- not what classics he read- but, rather, the ambiance of the classroom. English was his "favorite" class. Class was fun, and he said that "I didn't get angry, like the other teachers, when something bad happened. You liked us." Although I was just 21 and my students were 16 and 17, I was insightful enough to know that they were paying attention to my actions, and that I had the ability to directly impact their lives every day. Growing up, I had so many great role models as teachers, so I learned the lesson of modeling expected behavior long before I became a teacher.
Sometimes in our society, the "cool" thing seems to be about complaining rather than appreciating, and criticizing rather than praising. It is up to you, the classroom teacher, to make your space and time with your students a positive part of the day, not a class they dread attending. You need to step up to be the positive role model for your students. You may not know it for years, but remember that your positive impact is far reaching, and will stay with your students throughout their lifetimes.
Teaching human beings is such an overwhelming responsibility, and it is important to try to be the best role model you can be every day. Someone is watching. . .actually, everyone is watching. Know that your influence goes far beyond your subject matter and classroom, and you are helping young people to shape their behaviors and reactions. It is an awesome task, but one I know you can handle. Have a positive day- being the best you can be. Who knows? Maybe in 40 years, you, too, will see a former student who will remember your class, but who will mostly remember YOU.
As always, I welcome your comments or suggestions.
My new book, STUDENT TEACHING; THE INSIDE SCOOP FROM A MASTER TEACHER, is available at www.dederittman.com You can also see my beautiful new press release at my website.
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