The Purpose of Life and The Quadratic Formula…

@joyinlearning RT @justintarte Kids are much more interested in how you treat them vs. what you teach them; relationships first, then comes the learning…

This is true of any work you set out to do.  When you take time to develop a connection with those on your team – you are more likely to move ahead maybe not more quickly but guaranteed with better results.  When people trust one another, they are focused on the task in front of them and not trying to figure out how the other person is going to under cut them.  When there is no relationship, there is not buy-in, so the work that is completed is not of the quality most of us want.

Our most important resource in any field is our human resource.   When you feel that you are appreciated, that you have ideas that want to be heard, you are more likely to share or make suggestions.  You want to be part of a team that values you and your work.  When our students feel valued, they want to be part of the team in our classrooms.

My schedule consists of year-long classes and with some of my students, it feels that it takes until right before Christmas before I have made a connection/bond with them.  Trying to convince them I am there for them – to help move them forward – but its not about my talk – its about my actions.  I can tell students I care all I want, but the way I treat them – either with respect and support or tell them what to do and expect them to do it right the first time around without my help…there are many scenarios that can play out in a classroom – is what they know.  In the end, if you want students to move forward, they must know that you care, that you value them as a person.

In all my years of teaching – I have slowly come to realize the majority of my kiddos do not experience the same home life I did growing up.   I have never experienced what many of my students go through outside of the classroom, so at times, I find it hard to relate.  Looking back, I know I’ve expected students to walk in – with everything completed – no matter what – to perform at the very highest potential, regardless of what adversity they face outside the school walls.  So many of my students have absent parents / adults or single parents who are struggling to do their best and make ends meet.  I even wonder that a few of them are homeless but have found a way around it – to hide it from the system. 

I teach in my home town – the culture is much different than when I grew up.  Somewhere along the way, I realized that I must be aware of how to make my classroom a safe environment for my students if I expect them to excel at all.  I’ll admit there are times I’ve lost my cool – noone’s perfect.  But I believe that you can ask any student from all my years of teaching and they’ll agree that I cared about them.

Sometimes, we have a run-in with a student (or colleague for them matter) – and we want to isolate ourselves, remove them from our classroom / environment – because we don’t want to have to deal with them.  My first year teaching, I remember a student, whom I will call M, was in my face, cursing me, because I was holding them accountable – I remember thinking this student would hit me at any moment.  I went to my principal, basically to ask that the student be removed from my classroom.  Ms. Jenkins (fine woman and outstanding administrtor) made a statement that to this day I can still hear, “Ms. Johnson,” she said, “Someone needs to be the adult in the situation.”  I fumed as I left her office.  How dare her say that to me!  I was angry.  I went to the restroom and I cried.  How was I supposed to work with a little brat who was allowed to fly off the handle, yell, curse at me – in front of my students?  Why should I have to teach a kid with no respect for me? 

When M returned to my classroom – there was tension.  I kept trying to “be the adult” and put aside the grudge I had and work – one-on-one many days trying to push M forward.  Finally, the grudge was gone, I was no longer angry – I had come to realize the life M faced outside the school doors and my heart was broken.  M was hurt.  Hurt people, hurt people.  And I just happend to be the one present when M couldn’t take it any more.  With many hours of extra time, often during breakfast before school, I continued to work with M.  M didn’t become the star student, but M became a student – working hard to move past the gaps that had grown so big through the years.  M was experiencing success.  Three years later, M had graduated and was working in a factory (earning good wages for this part of the state) – in a neighboring county.  One afternoon, stopped by my room to say, ‘Thank you.  I treated you so bad, but you never gave up on me.  You kept on pushing me and because of you, I graduated and now I am working at a good job.’ 

When we have respect for our students.  They know.  When we care.  They know.  When they trust us, they’ll attempt to learn everything we place before them.

I often wonder what life M is living now.  But for that moment in time – M was a starfish –  I made some difference in M’s life. 

I am thankful for Ms. Jenkins – for pushing me beyond myself to realize, its sometimes not about the math the students are learning – its about the life lessons that happen in our classrooms.  At times, we are the ones who get to learn the most.  A colleague shared on FB: 

“tallking to a former student today. He mentioned how much he learned from me even though at the time he didn’t realize it and even thought I was unnecesarily hard at times. I just smiled and told him that it was nothing compared to how much I learned from them. Happy to have a career that can be so mutually beneficial, for myself and my students.”  KRK

Two of my former students jokingly shared two best lessons from freshman year – The Purpose of Life and The Quadratic Formula…

The purpose of life is not to be happy-but to matter- to be productive, to be useful, to have it make a difference that you lived at all… Leo Rosten
 The Quadratic Formula Song from Bob Garvey – Math Madness

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