It goes without saying that teaching K-12 is hard. It is one of the most important and also most stressful careers a person can pursue. During your first few years in the classroom it may feel like those good days, when you and the students are engaged in a meaningful exchange of ideas that you know will follow them outside the classroom, are just sprinkled unevenly across weeks and weeks of the tough days, when you wonder if a single one of your students got any learning from the hours of work and energy you put in to plan and facilitate your lesson.
Our students are the ultimate accountability buddies. They will let us know what they see as on point in our lessons, outfits, and personal lives as well as, and often more emphatically, what they feel is missing the mark.
Still, it remains true that when a teacher does the work of showing up each day and loving our kids where they are, they respond with appreciation in their own way, in their own time. It can be so difficult to see when we are lost in the stressing of report cards, 504 meetings, professional development, and work-life balance.
I wanted to make a point to share with you a few ways I’ve seen students show love in my own classroom as well as some of yours, ways you may not have thought about as student appreciation but that will probably seem familiar to you. I hope that these examples can frame a new way of seeing and receiving appreciation from your kiddos that energizes you to tackle those tough days and makes the great days that much sweeter:
- A student that is excited to share about something outside of the classroom they’ve related to their learning. Granted, these offerings can come at the wrong time and be frustrating and disruptive, but once the misbehavior is identified, take pride and joy in the fact that your student did the work to read every label on the back of cans and bottles in their homes to find the words from science class.
- Students willing to go to bat for you: their rantings and proposed solutions may be less than helpful, but student outrage at the fact that your smartboard still isn’t fixed even though that lady down the hall got a new computer or that your department chair spoke to you in a condescending tone is their way of demonstrating care you may not see otherwise.
- Listen for a shift in student questions in your classroom. Have they stopped asking “can we all have the same answer” and started asking “Do we have to have the same answer”? That means they are taking pride and ownership over their own thoughts and ideas in a way they weren’t before. They’re more bought in! Another shift like this I love is the shift from “did I miss anything yesterday” to “what did we do yesterday/what did i miss”. Students are showing you that they expect and accept work in your classroom.
- Students stepping in to redirect each other before you have to as the teacher. No, not in the obnoxious they keep yelling “you shut up” across the classroom but in a genuine and appropriate way: “Dude, can’t you see she’s tired? Just do your work”. “Y’all, we’re trying to focus on this work”. “We’ve been doing so well on class points. Don’t mess it up”.
- Are your kids excited to see you outside of class? Do they invite you to watch them sing at church? Do they make a note to look for you at the soccer game? Do they get excited to see you in the hallway or ask if you can please be the chaperone for the field trip? Guess what- they love you.
This is by no means an exhaustive list and perhaps none of these resonate, but when you stop to consider moments in your classroom that felt unexpected or made you smile, I bet those moments are representative of student joy and love.
What you do matters. Your student may not have the words or maturity to express how much, but you should feel it in every fist bump as they enter class.