By Teachers, For Teachers
The teaching profession is about more than just sharing content, facilitating activities, and giving assessments. While these practices are certainly at the core of the day-to-day functions in the teaching profession, it’s not just anyone who can make these happen in a deep, impactful way. Experienced educators will tell you that the teaching profession is also about your relationship with students – how you see students as the unique individuals they are – that helps make each lesson, each experience, worth remembering.
We can probably all attest to the fact that it’s not the typical daily lessons that we remember long after we graduate. Rather, we tend to better remember those little moments of being seen. And it’s those little moments, those moments of connection and care, that help boost the overall learning experience for our students.
I am grateful to many of my own teachers who demonstrated exactly this sort of outreach to me. I wasn’t always the best or most deserving student, but my teachers often took time out of the scripted routine to pay individual attention to me. I nostalgically submit some of these fond memories to you, and invite you to share instances of your own when teachers recognized and cared for you as an individual.
Hopefully we can all look back at our educational experiences and point out times our teachers saw us for the individuals we were. Teachers have a way of pointing out truths that students can’t yet see themselves. They can recognize potential, pinpoint deficits, and encourage greatness. But at no point can these things be done in a class-wide, one-size-fits-all basis. It takes that unique one-on-one recognition from one human to another.
My teachers called me out on my mistakes and weaknesses, emphasized my strengths, brought attention to my potential, and carved out time to see me as a person. It was these unscripted moments they spent with me – perhaps far more than the lesson plans and grades – that helped me have a positive experience as a student and propel me to new levels.
What are your stories? Or perhaps more importantly, what are the stories you’re writing right now with your own students? What moments beyond the lesson activities and assessments will students look back on and think, “That’s a moment where my teacher cared about and saw ME”? Here are mine.
I struggled through portions of my sophomore year English class, but my teacher refused to write me off. After I had recently submitted some sort of creative writing about Superman, my teacher took special note of my affection for superheroes and decided to bring into class something I might like. She brought in a cassette of comedian Jerry Seinfeld’s comedy routine about dressing up as Superman for Halloween.
We then spent time during class listening to this routine and cracking up together, just for me. She said, “Jordan, I totally thought of you and think you’re going to like this.” It had nothing to do with what we were studying, but everything to do with making a connection and devoting class time just for me.
It was 3rd grade when my reading and writing skills were adept enough to try out cheating. I figured that copying right out of my home encyclopedia would be a good idea, considering that it summarized the story of Achilles far better than I ever could. Instead of trying to paraphrase or cite or just ask for help, I turned to the story of Achilles and copied it word for word. Of course, I decided that I would erase some of the bigger words and replace them with similar smaller sounding words, not that I knew what the bigger words even meant.
It took about 0.3 seconds for my teacher to see right through this. Instead of coming down on me and making me feel miserable – which is probably what I deserved – he instead turned it into a learning opportunity for me. After talking to my parents, he and I sat down together and he walked me through in a caring fashion what I did that was wrong and how to avoid it in the future.
I enjoyed writing stories for class, but rarely got recognition for them. At one point during my freshman year in English class, I wrote a story about a pilot who crashed his plane into a farm field and killed a prized pig. I didn’t think much of it, but my teacher did. He made a big deal of calling attention to some of the elements I put into the story and let the whole class know he was impressed with my work.
He could have just put “A” on it, but he went further and made sure that I knew he saw talent and thoughtfulness in the work. I enjoyed writing before, but since that time I wrote because I wanted to live up to his compliments of me.
Like I said, I didn’t have tons of success early on in my English class, but I must have shown enough potential to receive an invitation from my current teacher to join the more accelerated English course. She pulled me aside one afternoon after class and asked if I’d be interested. I was interested but didn’t think that I’d meet the criteria! Fortunately for me, she thought I did meet the criteria, and my class schedule was changed the next week.
When I was in 5th grade, my mom was diagnosed with cancer. Fortunately she survived, but at the time things were challenging. I am grateful to the teachers who took a few extra minutes just to check in on me – “How’s your mom doing? How are you doing?” I didn’t have much to tell them, but the care they took to just pause their day and ask me about mine helped me know that I had a system of support and people I could trust at school.
In high school I took a leadership PE class that was supposed to train upperclassmen to become student leaders in underclassmen PE classes. Except at the end of the course when we were supposed to receive our recommendation to be a leader, I didn’t get one. I was baffled.
This was a negative experience at the time, but I am thankful for this moment. My teacher refused to just run through the checklist and recommend anyone. Even though in my head I had what it took to be a student leader, my teacher had the honesty to show me that the reality was different. I took this experience and his advice that corresponded with it seriously, and made adjustments to myself moving forward.
Share your own fond memories and stories of the teaching profession with us by leaving a comment below!
Jordan Catapano taught English for 12 years in a Chicago suburban high school, where he is now an Assistant Principal. In addition to being National Board Certificated and head of his school’s Instructional Development Committee, he also has worked with the Illinois Association of Teachers of English and has experience as a school board member for a private school. You can follow him on Twitter at @BuffEnglish, or visit his website www.jordancatapano.us.