Something has been irking me for a while- gnawing away at my soul like it is a bone. Maybe it’s a sense. Certainly it is something I have tried to understand- this sense, this feeling. I have tried to figure out where it is coming from. And I think I wasn’t able to understand it completely until I watched Rita Pierson’s 2013 discussion on Ted Talks about teachers and students. A topic I hold close to my heart.
Watching her- I just knew what it was I believed in my heart.
Have you ever been there? Ever known deep down inside that something is philosophically not resonating but been unable to articulate it? That’s how I have felt about certain school reforms I have seen come and go and then come around again- certain propensities our schools have toward standardized testing and adhering to core curriculum concepts. We focus on the MIND as if that was all that mattered. As if the brain is the only part that made a human worthy. Yes, that’s how I have been feeling: confused about why these and other educational trends to institutionalize schools even more than they already are institutions bother me so much. That is, until today. But I now can see clearly. I know what it is I believe. And that is above all, I believe that for student success to become a reality, every student needs a champion that believes in them as a being- not just a cerebral brain.
Is this earth-shattering news? Something we’ve not heard before? A new revelation?
Not really. We’ve always known that students need someone to appreciate their worth- body, soul and mind. That they need someone to look up to/learn alongside who will fight for them, believe in them, vouch for them and care for them. All of them- not just the academic parts. But I wonder if we were truly to stop and ask ourselves- what is it students need most of all…what would our answer be?
Would it only concern that grey matter in their head?
Do students need most- capable, effective instructors who can deliver the goods- inputting them neatly into the empty receptacle of the brain?
Do students need experts in science? Math? Languages? Art? And music?
Do they need great orators who can entertain with stories and interesting trivia?
Or do they need talented curriculum guides to make study easy and exciting?
Or is it an organized, crafty designer to make the class room inviting and warm that they need?
A content specialist?
A well-educated scholar?
A parent, friend or a magician?
What, of all these and many other positive and negative teacher attributes, do students then really need so as to find success inside the classroom and beyond? What is the one extrinsic factor that defines clearly the success of a student- the whole student?
It’s simpler than you might think. Students need more than anything teachers that care.
They need teachers that are willing to care enough to be a champion of the students- believing in them against the odds. Students need teachers that care about their intellect- but equally alongside that grey matter that contributes to the whole, students need teachers that care about their emotional development, social development, creative capacity, cognitive understanding and physical ability. Who care about their hearts.
This is not to say that teachers cannot care about the mind. Students need teachers who care enough about them as students to infuse passion into their science programs- their math classes and beyond. Need capable, effective instructors who can live out their calling. Students need teachers who love their content area, but they need even more than this effective teachers who don’t make subject material such a focus that the kids sitting there in front of them fade into the background. Need teachers who don’t make kids play second fiddle to the content. Students need teachers who know the curriculum in such a way that they can make it fit the students’ learning- along with needing teachers who are specialists in their area of interest and thus passionate enough to care that their students learn about the world around them. But do not underestimate that these teachers care only about the mind. These teachers are more than just skill and drill. Their curriculum is the heart.
It’s what students want. What students need most- teachers who care.
Students need teachers that care enough about them to ask questions, offer suggestions, take an interest, get to know them, nudge them, listen to them, move them, inspire them.
And students need teachers who believe in themselves enough to also see that their adult minds are also growing and developing too- because teachers never stop learning. It is our students sometimes that remind us of the importance of curiosity, wonder and imagination.
For within all of the various teacher types, when observed as already being effective and dynamic, there is one more thing they share in common: care. They are all defined by and characterized by the ability to compassionately, empahically care.
And that’s exactly what students need- what they want and remember most about the teachers who teach them.
That they care.
Because teachers who care about their subject, course material and content area also tend to care about what really matters most- the people they teach. (At least they can and they should!).
What it really comes down to is this: students don’t want teachers to see them as hollow receptacles for knowledge, as empty buckets needing to be filled. As problems and burdens and inconveniences and annoyances. They want us to see them as human beings. As people with potential and possibility. As capable and able to do the impossible.
And at the end of the day, what students want to see in us their teachers is a man or woman who is their champion.
Because every student deserves a champion. Every single one of them.