As an English teacher, I often find myself trying to connect old stories with modern times. English teachers read a lot of personal stuff over the course of a school year–kids will be honest in their journals, in their poems, and sometimes in their essays and that honesty can be heartbreaking. I’d like to think I’ve improved at not pushing students who will never like me, pushing just the right amount at students who aren’t “into” English, modeling personal responsibility which includes acknowledging wrongdoing or errors, and building good relationships with many of my students. I sincerely want them all to graduate from high school, to find work that pays for their bills and a little fun, to strive to be their better selves. I sincerely want my students to be true to themselves without becoming rigid and afraid of change.
One of the difficulties of being a teacher who is open and believes in having healthy connections with students is figuring out where the boundaries are. I never try to be wholly inappropriate, but I’m sure I sometimes am; I never try to challenge their belief systems, but I have to explain certain concepts connected to religion, philosophy, science, or intimacy that directly relate to what we read or watch or discuss. I sometimes end up having conversations that leave students asking “don’t you get in trouble for talking about this?” I don’t honestly think I say anything that is too over-the-top; I do try to keep their attention and give them honesty. I encourage them (in classroom discussion and in private conversation) to talk to their parents or to trusted adults about their struggles, realities, hopes, dreams, fears, and big questions.
My students come from such a variety of backgrounds, that I have to give them information on various religions, historical situations, philosophical movements, and societal changes–otherwise they will be handicapped when it comes to reading fiction and nonfiction. They will be handicapped when it comes to critical thinking and effective communication.
I suppose I shouldn’t periodically challenge their willingness to believe “authority” by telling them outrageous half-truth or giving them “fake” vocabulary words. If we are good citizens, if we are to be our better selves, then we need to understand the what and the why of our core beliefs–we need to understand how the past, the present, and the future connect. Maybe I shouldn’t teach “alternate” interpretations of texts instead of the traditional interpretations, but I want them to find support for what they understand to be happening to the characters, in the plot, and what the authors are really trying to say. We have to look at not only the information we are given, but the source of the information we are given–everything is biased these days. To make informed decisions, my students need to understand what others are trying to say without being obvious or what others are trying to hide from them with a big show.
I’ve learned so much about people and about myself in the last 22 years and I try to put it into action every day. I want my students to keep learning, to keep trying, to take risks, to do the thing that secretly scare them (but not the things that will destroy or damage them). I have learned from every kid who passionately hated me and from every kid who shared something overwhelmingly real with me. I look at my former students and I have hope for my current and future students.
We keep getting told to build relationships, but an awful lot can go sideways and I’m not sure new teachers are always well-prepared for that eventuality–I’m not even talking about the obvious idiocy that some adults bring to the table. We have to remember that our students are in the process of becoming their realest selves. We have to remember that we have been given the opportunity to guide and support, nothing else.