I've been thinking about what's happened over the past 34 years...the number of students I've had contact with...and the impact I've had on their lives.
I started teaching in 1976. I struggled, as many beginning teachers do, with class management, record keeping, and all the little things that keep a classroom running smoothly. From the beginning, though, there were two things that I was sure about -- reading aloud to my class, and building good relationships with students.
I used Jim Trelease's Read Aloud Handbook as a guide to reading aloud, and that book, along with that activity became my passion in education. Every day I spent in a general education classroom had a read-aloud time. If I was short on time for the day, I would skip some academic subject so I would have time to read aloud. I didn't neglect the other areas, but, in my opinion, they were not as valuable as the read aloud time.
I still believe that. In talking to former students no one has ever said, "I really liked learning math in your class" or "I always remember how we practiced our spelling." What they say are things like this...
"You read ____ [Insert Book Title here] to us when I was in your class and now I'm reading it to my _____ [insert CHILD or CLASS]."Building Relationships
"I loved listening to all the books you read."
"I still have the class coloring book we made with all the illustrations we did from the books you read to us."
It's important for teachers to relate to their students...to give them a model of how to live...to provide them with opportunities to grow as a person. You never know when you will have an effect on a student's life.
A few years ago I got a letter from one of my former students, Ryan. He was in prison, serving a life sentence. In the letter he spoke about the impact I had on his life. Obviously it wasn't a great enough impact to keep him out of prison, but still, he was grateful for the time he had spent in my class.
Ryan was in his mid 20s to early 30s at the time he wrote the letter and he specifically remembered the day we made Father's Day Cards at the end of the year when he was in third grade in my classroom. He told me that his father had recently passed away. The memory of the Father's Day card came back to him as he thought about his father's death. He always remembered that card because it was the very last time in his life he had any contact with his father.
For Ryan, Spelling and Math were not the things about his time in school which were important. What was important was that I had given him the opportunity to make a connection with his father...I had offered him a memory to keep with him for the rest of his life. The memory was so important that, when it came back to him, he felt the need to communicate that to me.
A teacher's greatest responsibility is not to his subject matter...not to reading or math, or science. Those things are important, to be sure, but creating an environment of honesty, trust and safety is paramount. That's what's really important for students in a classroom...and for the rest of their lives.