I didn’t make the cheer squad in middle school and I never did quite master juggling, and yet, it feels like that is exactly what I spend my days doing. Cheerleading and juggling. At the same time. In addition to teaching math, creating math songs and dances, ensuring the safety and well-being of my students, handling the avalanche of emails that end up in my inbox, tracking down students who should be in my class but aren’t, kicking out the students that should be somewhere other than my classroom, eating donuts, grading, and trying to be a functioning human being. Sometimes I wonder why I am so tired all of the time, and then I realize the amount of multi-tasking I am doing at any given moment. I’ve often seen a statistic that says teachers make an average of 1,500 educational decisions. A day. A DAY. No wonder that when it comes time for me to decide what is for dinner I find myself crying on my kitchen floor because decisions are hard (well, decisions and life sometimes). I would be lying if I said I haven’t tried to figure out a way to position my computer so that I could type emails with my foot, teach at the board, and write passes at the same time.
If you know me at all, you know that it is no secret that I have a special place in my heart for all of my students, especially my more challenging students. Call me crazy, but I love a good challenge. They are often referred to lovingly, and sometimes frustratedly, as “my kiddos.” People often ask my why I decided to be a high school math teacher. Well, besides the pay, glory, and fame, I did it for the summers off. Just kidding. A little. I like math, but I LOVE working with teenagers. They are the niftiest bunch of frustrating weirdos you could spend your day with, and I think it is pretty cool that I get to use math as a way to prepare them to be full blown functioning adults that might possibly one day change the world. Some days I see those things happening right before my very eyes. Some days I have to remind myself that it’s all about the little victories, and that I might not get to see the tree that grows from a seed planted in high school, but that doesn’t make that tree any less special.
I have a student this year who is going to be responsible for my first grey hair, without a doubt. I don’t even have her in class, actually, and yet, she is going to age me. We work together on her behavior and her academic work, and I often feel for as many steps forward as we take together, every little victory we celebrate, we often end up with a giant leap backwards. We recently had a chat where I was very honest with her. I told her that I am continually telling everyone just how incredibly awesome I think she is. I told her I will continue to tell everyone how incredibly awesome I think she is, because I completely believe it is true. But people are starting to think that maybe I’m crazy, because they don’t get the chance to see that side of her. When I start to think that maybe I am, I remember how far she’s come in the past year, and all though we still have a ways to go, that progress should never be belittled.
We had a speaker at the beginning of the school year named Dr. Sharroky Hollie. It was probably the best professional development I’ve ever sat through, and I’ve sat through a lot. Seriously, teacher friends, look him up, and if you get any say on speakers for staff, you want him. He covered so many important things relating to Culturally Responsive Teaching. The thing that stuck with me the most was his talk about outrageous love. He said that every day should be a day where we show outrageous love to the students who need it the most. It’s been said that the students who need the most love will ask for it in the most unloving way and boy oh boy is that true. But with every frustrating situation (of which there are many), I remind myself that this is the perfect time to show outrageous love. I know I’m not the only one in my building reflecting on outrageous love. While talking to a student in need of some outrageous love with another teacher, the student asked why we cared so much. The other teacher proclaimed, “BECAUSE THIS IS OUTRAGEOUS LOVE!”
So in addition to juggling all of the day to day tasks of teaching, I add in outrageous love, which to me, feels a heck of a lot like cheerleading. Sometimes I feel like I am continually cheering, “I BELIEVE IN YOU, I WANT YOU TO SUCCEED AND I KNOW THAT YOU CAN, AND I FIERCELY AND OUTRAGEOUSLY LOVE YOU!” I might just buy some pom poms and master a toe touch.
Sometimes outrageous love is exhausting. And you question if it’s worth it, if students even feel the love. And to be honest, after a particularly tough and exhausting few weeks, I was wondering if outrageous love was worth it. But then a student asked me for a letter of recommendation for college. If I’m being completely honest, I was surprised. This student hadn’t made it a secret that my class was nowhere near their favorite last year. But when this student asked me for their letter, they said they wanted me to write it because I had seen them at the worst, and loved them anyway. It was a much needed reminder, both that outrageous love is worth it, and that it’s not about where you start, but rather, where you end up and the growth it takes to get there.
I am by no means an expert, but here are some things that I have found help me outrageously love my students:
1.) Greet students at the door. I had heard this over and over, but this year I decided to make a conscious effort to be at my door during passing period whenever possible. I am continually amazed at how much more connected it makes me feel to my students. It gives us the chance to start the day on the right foot, and I honestly believe that more of my students are showing up on time.
2.) Send positive emails. I’ve started picking out a few students every week and I send a positive email home. It makes it easier to look for the good in my students.
3.) Hallway chats. Whenever possible, I try to immediately pull a student out in the hallway when behavior is not classroom appropriate. It gives us both a chance to voice our feelings without things getting blown out of proportion, and more often than not, we can both walk in to the classroom and have a reset. I also like to pull students out in the hallway for positive things. First off, it’s fun to watch them squirm when you tell them you want to talk to them. Second off, it reminds everyone that a hall chat isn’t a bad thing. Sometimes they don’t go so great though. Just last week I thought I was having a really productive conversation with a student about his behavior when he interrupted me halfway through to inform me that he didn’t like how I did my make-up.
4.) It takes a village. For a long time, I thought it was my job to find solutions for every challenge I face while teaching. I felt like if I asked for assistance, I was admitting defeat. It’s quite the opposite actually. Students need to know we are all working together for their success. I am so grateful for the coworkers who support me while outrageously loving. I am thankful that they help me brainstorm creative solutions for my most challenging situations.
5.) Remember that you are teaching almost adults. To me, this means remembering that you are teaching real humans with real thoughts and feelings. This means that there is a reason behind why a student is acting the way they are. “How does this make you feel?” and “Why do you feel this way?” are such important questions. A lot of times, I understand a student’s behavior much more when I take the time to listen to them. It also means that they are humans and humans make mistakes. Kids especially are still learning how to function as a human in the world, and it is part of our job to teach them how to do this. You can’t just assume they know it already.
6.) You can’t pour from an empty cup. I spent a lot of time trying to be super teacher. I sacrificed a lot of my own health and well-being because I thought I was doing it for my students. I realized that when I took the time to take care of myself, I was a much better teacher.
7.) It’s okay to let your students know you are human. Students can smell bullshit from a mile away. Be a genuine human with them. Let them know that you are imperfect and make mistakes. But also show them how to recover and redeem yourself.
8.) Keep a stash of things that make you smile. Some days are just going to be really, really awful. And on those days, when you find yourself googling “jobs that pay me to not interact with people, not wear real pants, and be able to use a bathroom anytime I want,” dig out those reminders that not all days will be great, and not all students will be success stories, but that you are doing good work and your work is worth it.