For many of my early students, recognizing letters and reading whole words was a challenge. These elementary school students needed visual cues and repetitive sentence structures to help build the stamina needed to tackle new words. On my way home from work or while making dinner, I found myself wondering what books might spark an interest. I often worried for the ones that judged themselves based on the performance of others.
When I graduated to working with sixth graders, the challenges were of a different sort. Yes, there were still reading struggles. But, now I watched students navigate the halls of a larger middle school. For these students, the rotating schedule, new social groups and increased workload could be exhausting. When I was out walking the dogs or brushing my teeth, I worried about a certain student who was disengaging or another student who might be facing bullying.
When I say I worried about these students through the years, I mean I focused on the whole child. The term “whole child” is very in vogue these days. But, I believe if we focus on the whole student, we are actually just putting that student in the context of life. Maybe the homework wasn’t done because of a heart-rending issue at home. Perhaps the student is disengaged because he/she was excluded by “friends”. Maybe an embarrassing moment looms large for a student.
I now teach eighth graders. My students are perched on the edge of high school. Many are consumed with budding romances or focused on the weight of schoolwork and parental pressure.
However, recently, I had a student make a very poor choice. This choice had health-threatening consequences. This choice brought lots of trouble with it. Years ago, my brother made a similar choice. In his case, the choice took his life off track and wrecked relationships.
So yes, worrying is part of my job. I want to support students when they don’t make the right choice. It is not my place to judge but rather to listen. My students should feel that I care more about them as a person than the grade on the latest paper. Teaching is a noble profession precisely because equipping students with the skills to be successful in life means so much more than teaching letters and numbers.