A recent conversation with some students gave me pause for reflection that I wanted to share. Here's what happened:
An annual event in our district is a Battle of the Books for fourth grade. I accompanied our team of 4 girls to the downtown Convention Center for the district finals. It is quite an exciting experience for our students, who rarely get out of their neighborhoods. So I try to make it as fun and prolonged as possible. On our way back to school, we stopped at a local ice cream stand, which is practically a historic landmark for our area. A treat for all! A dipped ice cream cone at 10:30 in the morning! After returning to school, I was talking to some other 4th grade girls about how our school's team did in the Battle. However, they were even more interested in the fact that we stopped at Bo's for ice cream on our way back to school. I remarked that I'd never been there and loved it. "We love that place!" "We go there all the time!" "I love everything they have!" "But why haven't you ever been there, Mrs. Penvose?"
I said I'd never been because there are places closer to my house where I go for ice cream, etc. "Don't you live around here?" "Well, I'm not far, but I live in _______________ , which is only 20 minutes away." They seemed shocked.
"And you teach here?" "Yes"
"Why do you come clear over here?" "It's really not that far...and besides, you girls are here!"
"Why don't you teach at ________________ or a better school?" (ouch!)"Yes, Mrs. P, it's too rough here!" "But I don't want to teach at ________________...I love it here!"
They didn't quite know how to respond to that, but I was left with such sadness. They had such a low opinion of our school and probably felt the teachers were of the same opinion. In the past we have had a high turnover, and I realized the students might take it personally. There was no continuity, no sense of knowing all of their teachers, or having that bond in knowing they could go visit a previous teacher to make that school connection. These girls just didn't know that some of us teachers, for the most part, choose where we teach and that some of us really DO want to be here!
What message are you giving your students? That you're at your school because you like them, or because you don't have a choice? Because it's convenient? Are you putting your time in until a "better" school opens up? Or that your current school IS the place where you WANT to be...or more importantly, that your kids are the ones you WANT to teach and are the ones you CARE about? In a time when things are more fragmented and uncertain, we need to let the students know that they're loved and accepted, no matter what the school situation or climate....and we must communicate that in every way and speak proudly of our school, not disparagingly. To use an expression we've heard a few times at my school this year, "Students don't care what you know until they know that you care".
Our school is a home for many of my students. Within the school, the place that gives students a warm feeling is our media center. It is unique to the rest of the building and easily draws students into it to see the many gifts it has to offer. Let's warmly welcome them and assure them that we have a gift we freely want to offer each and every one of them. It'll help keep us grounded!