The Eternal Bond of Teaching

I have students from the past that now stretch out over the thirty years.  Apart from making me feel old, it also amazes me how many of them still remember our time together and state there is some connection still there, no matter how long it has been.  I know I am not alone in this phenomena.  It has been cussed and discussed over the life of Western civilization.  The learning act produces a lasting bond.  So what is it that produces this bond?  I give just a few guesses to start this meditation…

teacher student

Ego. It could be as simple as the pride or sense of accomplishment that the teacher and learner share.  The teacher remembers that the student passed or at least tried to, and the student is happy that they made it through.  Some of the comments I see on Facebook from time to time intimate that what is remembered of my teaching and their experience is the difficulty of the experience.  But I think it goes beyond this, as the other more difficult aspects of life would slowly wear away at this – unless I am the toughest thing they ever faced!

Commonality. There is the possibility that we are both drawn together by a common goal or purpose.  Just being in the same class or school can build a bond of identity.  The fact that we know each other is a form of this bond, but it seems to go well beyond simple acquaintance.

Sweat affinity. Two who have worked together often have a bond of sweat.  Take to boys that don’t know each other and have them dig a hole together and forever after the one considers the other “the guy I dug that whole with.”  I think this is in play here, but in situations of education I think it is more than just the hard work.

Love.  For many of my past students, we were together long enough to begin to love one another.  This is helped by the prayer I have prayed since before I even began teaching that God would cause me to love all my students regardless of their lovability.  When I say we were together long enough, I am not saying that simple passage of time is enough.  But the time allowed for the words and commitments to pass between us that are necessary for two people to love each other around ideas and actions.  Time allows for sins and forgiveness, mistakes and corrections, victory and celebration.  And much of that is outside the parameters of the final “assessment” – “I got an A in Elliott’s class.”  Some of the students who seem the most bonded with me were the ones who struggled the most but received additional time, attention, and instruction from me as a result.  This is a deep bond, but I venture one step further.

Delight or even Joy. I think most of the bond that is present in the relationship of learning is that of joy.  At least delight.  A good teacher and student will enjoy thinking together, and this will bond them in a way that is beyond even the bond of love, in fact I think it spells out the love or desire or impulse that was at the heart of the last paragraph.  A love of true, good, and beautiful things is a very strong thing.  It can pull two disparate people deeply into affection, and become the kind of memory that immediately warms the heart and results in nice expressions on Facebook, or much deeper things than that.  The problem with Joy in this life, as Lewis so well expressed, is that it is fleeting.  It cannot be held on to for any length of time in a fallen world.  But its memory is something we seek to return to as often as we can, so when it is experienced at all in the classroom, the heart hangs on to it, and to those it was shared with.

Just the thoughts running through my head.  Your comments might bond us together…

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Winning the Whole Family – how to win parents and influence students

There are a number of ways in which parents and teachers can be set at odds with each other, and those paths are all too well defined.  But there are as well many ways in which the two can be led closer to one another, and that is the map I wish to look at here.  Some very basic “messages” consistently and constantly communicated can be instrumental in winning parents and influencing students to love, respect, and support your teaching.

 

One of the assumptions that is no longer valid in education is that parents naturally trust and respect teachers.  They must be won.  Whether that has always been so or something new, it is true at the moment.  To win parents to your side, your messages should include at least the following three clear statements.

 

“I love your child.”  Nothing could be more important or need to be stated more plainly than that you love your students.  This should never be in doubt in a parent’s mind, even when you are challenging their children to new heights of excellence and performance.  I am quite often amazed at how much this needs to be said and how quick teachers are to forget to state it.  You cannot overemphasize this point.  It cannot go without a lot of saying.  And actions are much louder than words.

 

“I want you to be a part of my class.”  Most parents assume that teachers would like to see as little of them as possible.  The way you win them is to convince them of the opposite.  Here is the little conundrum I observe quite frequently.  When a parent feels they are out of touch or even excluded from the classroom, they become quite visible at the classroom door, wanting conferences, asking questions, “attacking” teachers in hallway conversations, etc.  But when a teacher takes the time and effort to include the parents in what is going on, to be communicative and open with their teaching, then the parents wind up backing off and actually being there less, but actually being more involved in the process.

 

“I am going to communicate with you no matter what.”  None of us like confrontation.  And most of us have grown up in a culture where far too much “conversation” is really closer to confrontation than anything else.  So it is natural, but quite destructive, for teachers to want to hole up in their space and seek as little contact as possible.  They refuse to respond to phone calls, emails, notes, and even avoid conferences.  This just kills their platform for relating to parents.  Be open, be available, and be very clear that no matter what the obstacles, you want to talk it through.  If it is clear that you want to communicate, you will be amazed at how much easier it is to do so.

 

Another assumption that must be debunked in a teacher’s mind is that students will just naturally love my class and thus me.  Again, some basic clear messages need to be restated over and over.

 

“I am for you and your success.”  Integral to influencing students is being clear about the fact that you do what you do so that they can be better.  In our school materials, we use the notion of preparing students for the good life, the life well-lived, the best life possible.  If this is clear in your words and actions, you will influence students.  Note that I am stating you will influence them, not necessarily that they will think you are cool, or neat, or the most loving teacher ever.  Many of my best teachers pushed me as a young man and I pushed back (with consequences) and sometimes needed some time to give them their due respect and honor.  That was me, not them causing the delay.  I knew they loved me, but they sure had a tough way of expressing it.  If your actions state clearly, “I want you to succeed,” then there is good reason to believe you will influence them for good.

 

“I love you.”  This cannot be said enough.  I am not talking about anything other than proper redemptive Christian love.  Students should see, know, and hear from you that you are willing to sacrifice yourself for their good.  If they get any signal that you are in the classroom for yourself, you will lose them.  If they see and hear evidence that indicates you are there because you love them, they will follow you to the ends of the earth, and beyond.

 

“I know you.” Kids are not numbers.  Teaching runs the risk of reducing them down to grades, or labels, or classes, or such.  When a teacher falls prey to such a temptation, there will be trouble.  But when a teacher has moved beyond just the surface knowledge of a student to what is going on within, they will quickly unlock the motivations, passions, and loves of that student in their classroom and then you are off and running.

 

I know these sound basic, and they are, and there is nothing wrong with basic.  Meditating and contemplating these things can only make us better teachers.