Tuesday, 26 June 2012

What really matters

Image: 'LTHE : Learn - Teach - Help+-+Enjoy+/+FOSS'
Time pressure and deadlines. Piles of ungraded tests and forms to be filled in. During many weeks these were my constant worries. There were so many responsibilities I had to take on and roles I had to fulfill, that I simply couldn’t enjoy anything I did! For almost a month I had no free time, no fun and, unfortunately, almost no sleep.

Many of my students also looked completely drained. I believed most of them were also suffering from this end-of-term stress. I could hear many of them complaining about the lack of time to study or having too many exams on the same day. However, these were just some of the problems they were confronted by. When I finally had some time to talk to them I did discover the hard facts. Apart from having to earn good grades, many were being bullied at school, some had terrible problems at home and others, unfortunately many more than I had ever expected,  were fighting serious illnesses such as bulimia, panic disorder and even cancer.

Discovering the uncomfortable truth gave me a totally new perspective. First, I felt incredibly lucky. I’m much older than my students are (in fact, I am as old as many of their parents) and the most serious problem I have is lack of time. I am healthy, I have a loving family, a job I enjoy, and plenty of interesting projects for the future. Why should I be worried? Once again, my students were teaching me a lesson: I must not complain, I have all I ever dreamed of. The only thing I have to do is learn some techniques that I can use to deal with occasional stress.

After this initial shock, I started thinking about the way I teach. Was I placing too much emphasis on testing and subject matter, and not enough on serving as coach, counselor, or mediator? Maybe I was. Maybe I was forgetting what really matters: outstanding teachers are not people who know a lot, they are those who have a thorough knowledge of, and an excellent relationship with, their students. The teachers I remember the most are the ones who developed a personal relationships with me.When I was at school I wanted to be listened to, to be respected as a human being with needs, fears, and emotions. And, above all, I wanted teachers to help me become a better person, not a more proficient student.

I have a good relationship with my students, but is there a way I can help them deal with at least some of the problems they are facing and achieve their full potential? During the last 2 weeks I have been reading a lot about building a stronger relationship with teenagers. These are the aspects most authors agree teachers need to focus on and some of the things I have done recently:

  • Make an effort to learn who your students are and what they need
The more we know our students, the more we can build learning environments that are going to work for them. So,how can we get to know them better? Well, a few weeks ago I wrote a post on why and how I use Facebook with students. I can’t explain how useful it has been. I have really learned a lot about their life outside school, their tastes, hopes and difficulties! Of course, talking in person is crucial, too. That’s why last week I forgot about curriculum and had a serious conversation with each and every class I have. We talked about the problems at school, about who they can talk to in case they need a helping hand, and what we (students AND teachers) need to do so that school becomes a more welcoming place. After this conversation I instantly felt a stronger bond and a more relaxed atmosphere. More conversations such as this one are due to come.

  • Use appropriate language in class
Sarcasm and unkind words when disciplining students are an unfortunate reality.You lose your temper and you forget you should set the example. Right after you open your mouth you can feel it - everyone is uncomfortable.  I make an effort to maintain order using appropriate language.  Being mindful of the choice of words I use contributes to an atmosphere of respect.

  • Create a supportive atmosphere where students develop self-worth
“The curriculum should be planned and presented so that all students succeed each day”, says D.E. Campbell in his article about building positive relationships. Wow, I had never thought about it this way but I can’t agree more! Students who feel comfortable and competent at school develop a positive sense of self. The school's aim should not be to transmit knowledge but to build students self-esteem.Campbell adds that, “ focusing on strengths can help students develop resiliency to deal with serious problems, such as teen pregnancy, violence, and dropping out of school.”

What do you think? What really matters in education?


  1. With so much empty talk and false recipes around, your post is a mos welcome wake-up call.
    Thank you so very much!

    1. Hi Mariel,

      Thanks for dropping by and for your kind words. :)

      As society changes, so do the unique needs of teenagers. Working with them is certainly a challenge but it is also an opportunity to learn.I hope I can keep on evolving both as a teacher and as a human being.

    2. Dear Ana,
      nice to see you going beyond the classroom and thinking about what really matters to your students. good job. keep it up.

    3. Thanks for visiting the blog, Rajni! I hope I can keep on focusing on the things that REALLY matter.