Previously I have written about trying to learn how to show love as freely as my dogs do. This was central to my classroom strategy this year. Since the school year is officially over, now I get to reflect on how well it worked. There was definitely a change.
When I had my very first classroom 18 years ago, I accidentally slammed my door on the first day and scared the freshmen. When you combine that with my natural RBF (resting um…butthead…face), 30 kids were terrified. They soon realized was all bluff and gruff. However, my kids thought it was hilarious to tell incoming students how scary I was. For the first 14 years of teaching, I just went with the unfounded fear turned to continuing upper class prank. It worked well with my inclination to avoid sappiness.
Then it became time for me to go home and change some things in my life.
I had a new opportunity to start the year with love rather than fear. It was tougher than I expected. Before, I had very few discipline issues because by the time kids were no longer afraid, our procedures were established and I could form relationships. I also needed to break my ingrained habits.
I didn’t want to be the scary teacher. Instead of kids laughing at their long running joke (excepting those who thought I was legitimately terrifying and never moved past it), I wanted to be the kid of teacher my kids loved and remembered fondly.
The first two years in my current district, I just tried to be the kind of teacher, and person, I wanted to be. I made some improvements but they weren’t enough and I didn’t feel successful in any way. Then came Percy who would never have been a dog I picked out for myself.
Percy is the most loving dog I have ever met. I started using him as my model for some of my behavior. I try to show my kids every day how much I love them so the students don’t have to guess or hope their teacher cares. Obviously, I don’t show my affection in the same way Percy does. I have no desire to slobber on anyone or follow them around every moment of the day. I still need my space and quiet time.
I just started telling the students how I felt. I worried that teenagers would think it weird or that they were too old for getting read to and fed snacks. I gave it a go. Then I told them again.
I reminded my kids that I would love them no matter what their standardized test scores were. And in their very last class, I reminded each section that I loved them dearly and I would miss them.
The best part of actually verbalizing how I felt felt instead of just hoping they knew was their response. One group even responded immediately with a “love you” as they left. While I searched for the tissue box that seems to roam the classroom, I thought about how happy I was this year. I had no behavioral discipline referrals. I signed more yearbooks than all other years combined and I have a great start for my new memories book.
I know it isn’t just saying “I love you” aloud to my kids. I actually worked to improve our classroom environment and atmosphere in other ways, as well. Those three words were the scariest part and I will keep working to make my classroom not just a room of learning but also of love.
I don’t regret taking the risk of stating my feelings just like I don’t regret getting a giant, slobbering, blanket-carrying, bottomless pit of a dog who thinks he must be in constant physical contact. Percy and I encourage you to show the love yourself this week. We need more love in the world.