Another Piece of the Puzzle: The Power of the Daily Teacher

Pardon me while I use an often frowned upon transition: Using a question to begin a response.  Have you ever felt like your world was overwhelming and weighed much more than your job? Yes, me too!

I remember when I worked in the business world I would become annoyed as co-workers spouted on and on about their personal lives as if nothing else mattered.  I do tend to be the self-described task-master.  There was work to be done, but there were employees who were beaten down with their home-life demands, not enough work to be a distraction, or those who were more consumed with themselves than their job. Don’t get me wrong — I can fall into the first two categories.  My parents, sister, and brother-in-law never allowed the latter to occur: Work ethic was an ownership I was expected to have, and it began at age 11 1/2.  But, I digress.

As educators, we need to remember that our paramount focus everyday is not our personal lives!  It is our students.  People look at me like I am crazy when I say I have almost 600 students.  And as a high school department chair I do have almost 600 students.  In our discussions, my department chair colleagues agree with me  that we take on that responsibility in our jobs.  I have to forget myself and focus on these kids.  Each of them is a puzzle.

The summer before I became department chair, I met a social studies teacher in our high school.   He gave me the best puzzle piece possible:  As you walk down the hall, greet every student whether you know them or not.  The teacher — who at our loss moved to another district — told the story of a student whom he had not taught but spoke to daily.  The boy came to Mr. W. as a senior and said Mr. W. had saved the kid. This teacher had made it worth coming to school every day because the young man looked forward even in rough times of being acknowledged by Mr. W.

Talk about the power of a teachers words!  Leave our personal world at the door or at best tell our students of the personal sticky-point (if appropriate) and then move on.

How do I help a student, and when do I leave them alone? Greet them — absolutely!  Get to know the students in my classes — without a doubt!  Which puzzle piece do I choose that day for each student? These are the questions we must ask — and more importantly not forget to ask ourselves.

As I sat 2 seats away from the graduation entrance ramp 2 weeks ago and my former students walked up, it was difficult not to cry.  I witnessed my former 7th graders emerge from pre-teens through high school and now leaving us.  It was my lucky seat as they looked at me and gave a wave, I congratulated, their sincere smiles, my robust applause, and their elation.  Each day as their 7th grade teacher and as I followed their progress through high school, I had the power to send them on with a positive motivation or a negative impact through my words.

Every day is a puzzle for each of us as we speak with our students.

How we deal with that puzzle is crucial.

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