Do My Students Know I Care About Them and Their Stories?

by | 01.14.19

A few years ago, I felt frustrated with my teaching. I didn’t feel like what was happening in my classroom was working for all my students. I looked at what I was doing and thought, “How can I make adjustments to this?” Then I started looking around and asked, “Who can I learn from?”

I turned to fellow teachers – at my school and all across the country on Twitter. I saw teachers who seemed to be creating spaces in which every kid felt noticed, valued and appreciated. I started looking at what those teachers were doing, and I reflected on what I was doing, and I thought, “There are some things that need to change here, so my kids are leaving my classroom knowing that somebody loves and cares about them.”

After engaging in that self-reflection, I recognized that I have a level of privilege, and I carry it with me into my teaching. This wasn’t something I’ve always thought about. I’m from a multiracial background – my mother is Vietnamese and my father is white – and I haven’t had it easy. My life has been a challenge, and I’ve had to work very hard for the things that I have. Because I am female and multiracial, I contend with privilege all the time.

What I’ve started to realize over the past several years, though, is that nobody is saying my life hasn’t been difficult – but my experiences are very different from the experiences of some of my kids. When I wake up in the morning, do I have to think, “How is my race going to affect how I move through life today?” No, I don’t. My color is never a barrier for me – and that is not true for everyone, including many of my students.

I also realized that I have some privilege just because I’m the teacher. Being the teacher gives me a level of power my students don’t have. I started to look at some of the ways I handle my practice. I looked at how I handled policies. I looked at the times when I do – and don’t – hand off responsibility and power to the kids. I began working in a more intentional way to make my classroom more equitable.

This learning has completely changed my focus as a teacher. It has changed how I start off the school year – spending days getting to know my kids instead of going over the syllabus. It has changed how I start off the day. Now I’m at the door every morning, saying hello to every kid that comes into my room. It has completely changed my classroom management. It has made me more accessible to kids. They know I care about them.

Growth is not without mistakes. There have been moments when I need to stop, reflect on an interaction I’ve had with a kid and sometimes even go back and apologize. Not long ago, I had a student who wasn’t getting work turned in, so I had a conversation with him. The last thing I said before he left was, “I understand that you have a lot going on. But I need this work to get done.” As soon as he left the room, I immediately thought to myself, “If something happens to this kid, is he going to know that I love him?”

I was so upset with myself. I was afraid he left thinking the work I wanted him to turn in was more important to me than who he is. When he came in for the next class period, I said, “I feel like I need to apologize to you. I felt like when you left here the other day, I didn’t make it clear that what I was saying to you, I was saying out of love.”

I’m still working on building my classroom into a truly equitable space, and I still have learning to do – but that effort is so worth it. Across everything I have ever done in my teaching career, this work in particular has come together to make my classroom a place my kids want to be.

About the Author

Deanna Hess
Deanna Hess

Deanna Hess is a teacher from Delaware. Follow her on Twitter @Hessteacherest.

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