This post was written by NCTE student member Connor Greene.
I have spent the last thirteen weeks in a ninth-grade ELA classroom, completing my final practicum before student teaching in the spring. One Monday morning at the start of class, the students were trying to guess the age of my cooperating teacher, Mrs. B___. The conversation led to Mrs. B. stating that this was her sixteenth year of teaching, and a student shouted, “It’s your ‘sweet sixteen,’ Mrs. B.! We have to throw you a party!” The whole class shouted in agreement while Mrs. B. and I laughed—little did we know how serious the students were!
Over the next few days, the students decided who was bringing what to the party. If the students were being serious, I was too. On Friday morning, I entered the building with two boxes of donuts and walked into Mrs. B.’s room, where I saw the genuine care and efforts her students had shown. A classroom buffet, with cupcakes, candy, chips, and mac and cheese (yes, mac and cheese at 7:45 a.m.!) was spread across the front row of desks. On Mrs. B.’s desk sat a vase of red roses and a bouquet of balloons. As class began, the students gathered around a box of cupcakes, sang a version of “Happy Birthday” using “Happy Sweet Sixteen,” and had Mrs. B. make a wish by blowing out the trick candles brought by a student for the occasion. Even the principal joined in, wishing Mrs. B. a “Happy Sweet Sixteen” over the intercom. The whole school was in on the celebration and made Mrs. B.’s “Sweet Sixteen” truly special and memorable.
This goes to show that if you take students’ thoughtfulness seriously and buy into their ideas, the outcome can surprise you in the best ways. But my biggest takeaway from this field experience was the importance of building relationships with my students.
As educators, we know the importance of getting to know students beyond the classroom and taking interest in their personal lives, but there are mixed opinions on whether it’s okay to let the students get to know you beyond the classroom.
In my experience, nothing but great things happen when teachers let students in on who they are outside of the classroom. Building rapport with your students provides a foundation of mutual trust and respect. From this foundation comes a multitude of good things. When students trust their teachers and the learning environment that teachers create, students are more likely to participate in class without fear of making mistakes and being judged, and are more likely to take an active role in their education.
Connor Greene is a senior English major/education minor at Wittenberg University in Springfield, Ohio.
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