What is the most important thing about teaching? There are probably as many answers as there are people reading this.
But in my 30+ years as an educator, I found that in spite of the constant conversations around test scores and academic progress, the most important things for my students were the memories created, the love of learning instilled, and the knowledge that they were an important and valued person in their classroom community. These were the things that would last their lifetime. And mine. Relationship is the foundation for all learning and well-being.
Sometimes those relationships last beyond the one school year in which a child is your student.
Case in point: Nicolette. As a third grader, Nicolette and I had a wonderful bond. When she left third grade, we stayed connected, and I introduced her to my friend, Evelyn, as well, who has served as a mentor and friend to Nicolette, as they have many things in common. We attended Nicolette's quinceañera when she turned 15 years old. And then when she turned 21, we jokingly told Nicolette and her parents that we were going to take her out and get her drunk. But we went to a poetry reading and out for gourmet pizza instead (more our style!). We've stayed connected through phone calls and fun times over the years.
I believe that this connectedness meant a great deal to Nicolette and her family. It meant more than how many multiplication facts she had memorized when she was 8 years old. It meant more than the paragraphs she could write independently. It meant more than her test scores.
Nicolette is now in college, managing her schedule, her life, her relationships. She is solving problems, and celebrating her victories. She is a young woman who knows how loved and capable she is. And she cares about others around her.
I know that not every student will be a Nicolette. However, students (and educators) deserve to have fun, memorable, and love-filled educational experiences.
Teachers, as you get this new school year underway, remember that yes, you are teaching academics. And more importantly, you are growing relationships that will impact your students' love of learning, and will affect them for a lifetime. And who knows...through your students, you might learn some valuable life lessons as well.
Every moment, every day, let's aim to create that sense of belonging for our students; believe that their futures can be bright; let them feel our love and celebration of them, no matter what.
A few weeks ago, my precious dog, Sheba, passed away, and I posted in memory of her life on social media. That week, I received a surprise package in the mail. It was a hand-made rosary in memory of Sheba, from Nicolette.
Thank you, Nicolette, for being in my life and for being one of my greatest teachers.
Image Description: Blue and white rosary hangs from white, wooden bed post.
Image Description: 3 women smile at the camera for a selfie: Nicolette in foreground wearing a black hat, taupe glasses, and denim jacket; Evelyn in the middle with long brown hair and sunglasses wears pink t-shirt that says "The North Face;" and Diana in the background peeking her head into the picture frame, wearing an army green visor. Buildings and trees in the background.
Do you have a burning desire to have a more equitable and inclusive school culture?
Are you a person who understands the importance of DEI (Diversity Equity & Inclusion) work in schools, but when it comes to disability, you want to make sure you know what you’re talking about?
Maybe you’re a special education teacher, or a general education teacher, or an administrator, and you may know a lot about disabilities, but not necessarily about the experience of being disabled by society. You’re interested in disability awareness that will actually make a difference, but you feel stuck, and you just don't have a lot of time to figure it all out.
If this is you, then I invite you to take advantage of my free resource called “The 5 Keys to Going Beyond Awareness.” All you have to do is go to GoBeyondAwareness.com/keys and I’ll send you my important tips for starting your journey toward a more inclusive school.
For more resources related to education and disability awareness, listen to my podcast: Beyond Awareness: Disability Awareness That Matters!