The weekend before I first started teaching 15 years ago, I was filled with anxiety. I had trouble sleeping, my mind was racing, and I believe I found my body shaking from the nerves. My mother, my sweet and kind mother, gave me advice that I hold near to my heart to this day.
She told me to have faith in my abilities to teach. She said that I had been taught the skills, and each day would be easier as I learn to make the lessons I was taught in university my own. She then paused and told me that with everything I do in the classroom with the kids that I need to remember that I am affecting them. I had to make the decision to ensure it was positive.
My mom, a woman who was never a formal teacher (but, aren’t all mothers teachers after all?) taught me the most important lessons when working with students. She taught and reminded me about the importance of teaching from the heart.
She proceeded by asking me to never be upset with a child first thing in the morning because that affects her entire day. And, to always talk to my students about topics besides those pertaining to academics.
She also knew why I was extremely nervous to be in front of my students. I am a person who stutters and she knows that I am always afraid of people’s first impressions of me. Her advice was simple. It was to allow the kids in my class to know about me, know my struggles, my fears, and pain. It is the human experience and although the details may be different, we all know how these sentiments feel. In fact, all the students in my class hear the same story about me and my stutter, and each of them are nonjudgmental and approach me with empathy.
My mother, the sweet and kind woman, is wise. She may have not been using the appropriate educational terminology, but her advice was encouraging me to utilize social emotional learning practices. So, teachers, here it is. We all know this, but a little reminder, as we sift through curriculum, units, and class lists before the students arrive may be helpful.
Love your kids. On the first days of school, connect with them and continue throughout the year. Let them know who you are. Share your hopes and fears. Tell them stories about your past and current self. Allow them to share stories. Laugh with them. Ask them about themselves and learn who they are as a person, not only as the student they are in your class. Ask them about their day, previous evening, music recital, or birthday when they enter your room. Trust your gut, and take care of their spirits all the time, but especially when they are down. Begin the year slow, and get to know each other. Let them know you care about who they are from your actions and they will care for you. Deeply invest time in this. You will all be learning together.
Pooja Patel, MA