Supporting Students by Supporting Teachers

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I attended a chorale concert yesterday. My mother-in-law performs twice a year with a chorale associated with a local university. Excitingly, they also invited the local high school chorale to perform with them. I sat next to a stranger and I chattered with her happily about how cool it was that our district’s students had the chance to perform for a new audience.

At some transitional point between songs, this person passed me their phone, on which they had typed up a note. I don’t remember it word for word, but the gist was that, as a teacher, I had the ability (and responsibility) to positively impact students’ lives. I do remember the last sentence: “You may be just what they need.”

I took this as both a reminder of my responsibility as an educator, and as encouragement. It was a reminder because this stranger did not have a child or even a relative going through public schools, but as part of the community she is just as invested in local public education as anybody else. After all, shouldn’t she care that the students we graduate are ready to be good citizens? Shouldn’t she care that they engage in their community? Shouldn’t she care that they are prepared for jobs in and around our area, especially if they end up doing a job that she relies on them to be good at?

I also took it as encouragement, which is I think the spirit in which the message was intended. And that’s fine, because I think teachers need encouragement and support in order to do our jobs effectively. So much of teaching is giving encouragement and support to students. We have a phrase, “running out of patience,” that acknowledges that the intangible quality of patience is one that may come in limited stores. I think other intangible qualities — compassion and understanding, for example — may also come in limited stores. So when I need to use up all my patience for a particular student, it helps when someone else shows me patience in return, to help restore my own capacity for patience.

The last couple of staff meetings we’ve had at our school have largely been about the topic of leadership, but with the underlying message of the importance of our relationships. We talked about how having positive relationships with students correlates to positive impacts on grades, and potentially over other indicators of well-being. Having good relationships between teachers and students positively impacts school culture as well, since it helps students develop socially as well.

Students do better when they feel supported by their teachers. And teachers? Teachers do better when we feel supported by our communities.

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