Maya Angelou once said: “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” Think back on the teachers that you have had over the years. Who stands out? What do you remember about them? Do you remember a lesson they taught, an experience in their classroom, or do you mostly remember the feelings that you had in their classroom? I know that for me, the answer is clear: it was the way that they made me feel. When I think back on one of my favorite teachers as a child, I can’t remember much of what he taught me in the classroom. There is one thing that I do remember— he made me feel like I mattered. This was significantly important to an awkward, chubby, middle school kid who was struggling to fit in. I had nearly an equal amount of friends as kids who bullied me, but for an hour a day, those feelings disappeared. It didn’t matter what was being taught— all that mattered was that this teacher actually saw me and allowed me to stand out in a world in which I otherwise felt invisible.
The feeling that I had in that classroom has stuck with me throughout my entire life. It may sound cliche’, but this is one of the reasons that I got into teaching— specifically teaching middle school. As a teacher, I want my students to feel that same way when they enter my classroom. Whether I’m teaching math, science, reading, history or some other topic, I want my students to know that I see them and they are cared about. I’m entering my 9th year of teaching and it took me nearly that long to realize one simple fact: although I would love for my students to leave my classroom with a love of my subject, it is far more important to me that they feel loved. This year, I got a new group of students. On the first day of school, my board read: “Welcome 6th Grade: You are brilliant. You are beautiful. You are cared about.” The truth is that many of the students entering my classroom may not have felt any of this about themselves. With having them only a little over a week, they might not feel it yet. The key word here is yet. Because over the next 3 years, I intend to work my hardest to ensure that every student entering my classroom feels those three things.
Far too often, teachers are overwhelmed with the laundry list of content that they need to fit into a school year. I spent my entire last year in a quandary while I tried to get to every bit of content before the big test. I had largely forgotten about the things that I knew truly mattered. As you begin your school year, I encourage you to boil your practice down to the things that truly matter. What are the one or two things that you want your students to know or feel by the time they leave your classroom? I I would be surprised if that long list of content appears anywhere near the the top of the list. For me, the answer is simple. I want my students to know that they are cared about and they matter.