What’s Important… To Me

I started this post as a bit of an introduction. It moved towards something different in there somewhere and got way heavier than I intended. I think it turns out okay in the end, though.

There are many things that influence me as a teacher. Here are some of them…

I am the wife of a non-educator. Although a Muggle, he is a very wise and motivated human being. He listens to my rants and ravings (both positive and frustrated) daily and brings incredibly thoughtful insights to the discussion. While he doesn’t understand my font obsession, he does get the big ideas and I love hearing his take on the things that occupy my brain.

I am the mother of four beautiful children. Two of my children were adopted internationally. One of my children was acquired through my marriage. One of my children is homegrown. I spent some time as a single mom. My teaching is absolutely influenced by being a parent. Before I had my own children, I didn’t realize the vastness of my students’ lives beyond my classroom door. My students are children first and their home life is more important than what happens at school. There I said it. If we don’t value their home life, then we don’t truly value them.

I am the sister of a terribly creative and intelligent man. (I don’t think I’ve ever referred to either of my little brothers as a “man” and it feels totally weird to do so now.) As an adult, he is the head of a graphic design department at a well-known arts venue in New York City. His work is stunning and innovative. As a child, he was a tad artsy and nonconformist. He HATED school. He trudged through his entire school career and even failed art. Art. His true love. He is so amazingly talented and smart and sensitive and kind. Those traits didn’t suddenly materialize once he became an adult. They were always there. As someone who LOVES school and who has always LOVED school, it pains me to think that such a treasure of a human being could have had such a miserable experience. I keep my brother’s school experience close to my heart. I don’t ever want one of my students to feel the way my brother did. Not for one minute. The students who don’t fit into the school “box” are the ones who go out and make history. I cherish them (or try my best to on those rough days).

I am also the sister to a man (still weird) who has made some not awesome choices in life, been through the wringer, and is fighting his way back (like a boss). We were/are a super nice and normal family and bad stuff almost took my brother from us. Not almost… It did, for a very long time. And now he’s back. And it’s awesome. I’ve learned that even nice, normal families can be dealing with a whole lot of things that aren’t apparent on the outside. I’ve also learned that if you don’t have the right kinds of connections or gobs of money, there aren’t a lot of resources to help. And it’s stressful. That whole “be kind because everyone is fighting a battle that you might not be able to see” thing is so very true. You never know what a family is going through. You never know what battles that kiddo might be fighting at home. Home life is more important than school life.  There. I said it again.

And yet…

I am a teacher who loves me some school. And learning. And school supplies. I am obsessed with making my classroom and the materials I use inviting and appealing. But I know that the mini-lessons I teach and the procedures we use for book clubs and math facts aren’t the most important things. I know that homework is nearly, if not totally, impossible to complete in some homes and families. I know that some of my kiddos have a million after school activities (by their own choice or not). I know that some kiddos have to stay up late while their parent works late into the night. I know that some of my kids have to take care of younger (and occasionally older) family members and far too much responsibility is placed upon their shoulders. I know that some of my kids are so over-parented that they aren’t allowed to breathe without permission or validation. I do not wish to burden my children further with stuff that doesn’t matter in the grand scheme of things. I wish to provide them a safe place to spend their day, where they feel uplifted and empowered. I want to help them learn skills and concepts that enable them to make sense of their world and meet its challenges with grit and confidence. Sometimes school is the only place these kids feel safe, secure, and loved. There isn’t one thing in my classroom routines or objectives that is worth taking that away from them.

You cannot truly reach or teach a child until you’ve built a relationship with them. I firmly believe that. Too often, I feel that we get distracted by all the things that must happen in our classroom and forget that we have children in front of us. We forget that the routines and the procedures were put into place for the children. The lessons we have to teach are so very important, but not more important than the lessons we can learn from them and the experiences our students bring to us.

I am a fueled by, worried about, and inspired by my family and all the things I experience outside of school. Everything that I do at school is shaped by what happens outside its walls. Why wouldn’t I expect the same from my students?

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