"What is essential is invisible to the eyes." Seriously though, there's a lot of what you do that can't be measured, but makes you the teacher only you can be.— Tom Hall (@trigoTOMetry) June 19, 2018
I haven't been able to stop thinking about this and at first I struggled to think about what really sets me apart from any other teacher. What I've come up with is some common themes...
Effort Is Attractive
I think students feel safe knowing I'm always going to put forth effort and even extra effort. Which teacher do you trust more? The one who wears khaki pants and t-shirts every day or the one who puts together outfits with coordinating jewelry and make-up? The one who's classroom is cluttery and hasn't changed in 10 years or the one who keeps it clean, smelling fresh, and nicely decorated? The one who does the same worksheets and lectures year after year or the one who tries new things, fails, fixes mistakes, and asks for feedback?
I put effort into knowing my students and letting them know me. I know the slang, I'm active on social media, I learn their nicknames and hobbies, I have inside jokes with them, I compliment them, I ask them questions to get to know them better. I think this is something people take for granted. I like my students. I'm interested in their lives. I want to be part of it. I want to make it better. I like my job. I want to be better.
The students laugh at the extra things I do but also give me ideas on how to be even more extra. "Why haven't you decorated your SMART board remote? Everything else in here is decorated."
Treat People Better Than They Deserve
This really came to light at the end of this year. I always do something special for my seniors. This year I made them t-shirts- individually customized for each student. And before I gave them out, those students made me so mad. This wasn't even my favorite group of seniors. But you know what....I give gifts because I'm good...not because they are. Gifts are my love language and giving them fuels me. It makes me happy. And my goal as a teacher is that I give them a good high school math experience, that they enjoy my class, that they are observant, that they ask questions, that they put forth effort, and that they operate out of love. And t-shirts fulfills like at least three of those.
I buy them their favorite candy on their birthday. For Valentine's Day I wrote a little heart message to every kid. So many of the taped it to their notebooks or binders or lockers and that just made my heart burst. When I tell some teachers about those things, they look at me like I'm crazy. Everyone wants to be celebrated. Think of what you would like people to do for you...and then do it for them.
Keep in mind that I am the only math teacher in a small school so I have the same students for 3-4 years in a row. We get to know each other really well. They know when I'm mad or sad, they tell me when I look tired, they remember the one time ever that I went home sick. They know my favorite colors, that I'm obsessed with chevron, the snacks I eat, where I shop, and that I take naps every day. I talk to girls about make-up and they bring me colors they aren't brave enough to wear. They tell me when they see something chevron that I need to buy. We gush over our favorite pens to write with. Share memes. I ask about their weekend and they ask about mine. We tell stories. We laugh. Oh man, we laugh!
While it's important to remember they are humans, it's also important to remember you are. It still humbles me that when I tell a personal story in the middle of class how eyes are on me and there is almost a feeling of everyone holding their breath to hear my story. It's crazy. Don't take for granted that they want to know you too.
I have really good hearing. I catch almost everything and they HATE how consistent I am at enforcing my two nice things rule. Even school rules that I don't agree with, I am consistent with enforcing them by just saying "You know the rule." We have a no backpack rule. I watch students wear their backpacks to every class and then when they come to mine they put it in their locker first. After my class, they go right back and get it again. If they bring it to my class, I just say "Hey, please go put that bag in your locker." I don't yell. I ask. I say please. My tone tells them that I know they just forgot. Basically, I remember that they're humans. I consistently show up. I consistently enforce rules. I consistently run my classroom with routines. I am consistently myself- and that gives them permission to be themselves.
I'm a Learner
I have literally asked my mom how she taught me to always do my best in what I do, even if I don't like doing it. Secret is- she has no idea and thinks I could have been raised by wolves. But I think, I hope, I model learning for my students. I want to learn about them. I want to learn math that I don't know well enough. I want to learn new technology. I want to learn new makeup and hair trends. I want to learn how to be a better cook. I want to know the popular music and dances, even if I can't actually do them. I want to learn more about myself. I want to improve. I want to be better- in every arena of my life- and I think that reminds them that I'm human.
Once again, I think we take it for granted how important it truly is to like our jobs. Like our students. Like our classrooms. Like our jobs enough to dress up and show up. Like ourselves. Like learning.
Make Pretty Things + Make Things Pretty
To sum all this up, I think that my students respect that I will always try to leave things and people better than I found them. Whether that is cleaning, organizing, decorating, teaching, questioning, disciplining, I see the beauty in others and use my gifts to draw out and display that beauty as much and as often as possible.
What is 'essential' is that students leave my class feeling better about themselves, me, math, school, the world, etc because of how I used my gifts; that they are then inspired to go out and fully use their gifts.
And that is invisible to the eye.