aha moment, Be the change, students

Love Them Before You Know Them- Greta’s Aha Moment

Greta Sandler who is an elementary level English as a Second Language teacher in Buenos Aires, Argentina shares this week’s “Aha” moment.  She fell in love with the English language as a child and continues to be passionate about teaching and technology.  As a child she decided to become an ESL teacher but it was as an adult that the road ahead suddenly became clear.  Follow this passionate educator on Twitter at @Gret and keep an eye out for her very own blog coming soon.
I can still remember that day as if it were yesterday. It was my first day at a new school and my first year as an elementary teacher. My lifetime dream was coming true. So special was this day that everything around me was inspiring. I could savor every minute, every second there… just thinking of what it would be like, trying to imagine each of my new students, wondering if I would be able to connect with them, if I would be able to get the best from them. It was that day when I heard a teacher say a magical phrase, “The secret for a successful connection with students is loving them before actually meeting them.”  For some reason, that phrase stayed in my mind. I wondered what she had meant by that, I couldn’t actually figure it out, but it just felt special.

When I was assigned my group, I found out that there was a boy in my class, Thomas, who had an average performance, but serious behavior problems. What’s more, he was about to be expelled from school. I was sure there was a reason for his attitude. Little did I know that the reason would break my heart; it turns out that Thomas had been a victim of sexual abuse some years before. I didn’t know that kid, but he was already my favorite student. I talked to the other teachers, but only heard things such as: “I hate that kid,” “Don’t waste your energy on him,” or “It’s a hopeless case.” Needless to say, that was one of the saddest moments in my teaching career. In his record, all I could find were terrible comments and tons of dark, colorless and aggressive drawings he had made… Everything I read, everything I heard, and everything I saw only made me want to help him more and more.

School started and I finally met my class. Thomas didn’t exactly behave well, but it wasn’t as bad as people had pictured it. I tried to connect with him from the very first moment. I would spend time talking with him, making silly jokes and just showing him I cared. Every now and then, I assigned him important roles, so I could show him how much I trusted him. I always remember calling him Tom, instead of Thomas, for the first time.  I can still see his face glowing, when he came to me and whispered: “I had never had a nickname before.”  I would have never imagined that such a small gesture would touch his heart.

I must admit, I was really surprised when he came to me after a couple of months and said he was willing to improve on his behavior. Not only did he try really hard, but he would also ask me at least once a day if his behavior was OK or not. In addition to this, his grades began to improve and his attitude changed. He started to make friends and he was finally able to participate in class, share his stories and speak his mind. Soon after, everyone started calling him Tom. I saw small changes in him almost every day. 

I was truly touched one day, when I arrived to my classroom and found a beautiful drawing on my desk. Someone had made a drawing of me with a big pink heart on my chest. I couldn’t believe my eyes when I realized who had drawn it. I couldn’t hold the tears when I found this note on the back: “Miss Greta, I love you. Tom”

As months passed by Tom had become a brand new kid. He didn’t behave perfectly, but his attitude was different. He was passionate about learning and eager to keep making progress. It was just motivating seeing him play with his classmates during break time.  Apart from that, his grades had significantly improved and by the end of the year he was one of the best students in the class.
At the end-of-year ceremony, Tom was given an award for his effort and improvement. While he was receiving the well-deserved certificate, I could see his parents and grandparents looking at him so proudly with tearful eyes. That was my “Aha” moment. It was then that I understood how powerful connecting with our students is. It was then, that I finally understood what the phrase I had heard in the beginning of the school year meant.

This experience has totally changed my outlook on teaching. It made me realize how powerful our job is.  I learned that teaching is more than just following a curriculum. We get to touch people’s hearts; we get this unique opportunity of making someone’s life different by giving them tools to be better, by teaching them to believe in themselves and by showing them they are special and unique. It’s by showing them we care that we’ll get to do the most. It’s by loving them that we’ll be able to make them flourish. 

29 thoughts on “Love Them Before You Know Them- Greta’s Aha Moment”

  1. This is one moving story!. It is amazing the things you can do with pure, genuine love. Congratulations. I really look forward to reading Miss Sandler's own blog.

  2. This part resonated with me:“The secret for a successful connection with students is loving them before actually meeting them.”I think that whenever we go into a new year, we always have to remember this. I have been in so many different schools and have always been nervous when I started. The one common thing that I have always found is that the kids are always amazing. We have to remember that especially when we go into years and we get the kids with "the reputation" that proceeds them, we love them as well. No one (no one) does well until they know someone believes in them.Beautiful story and I am REALLY looking forward to you writing your own blog. Thanks to Pernille for opening up this forum to you.

  3. Greta,This post had me in tears from the initial sentences. Your story confirms what I have always believed about teaching; without relationship, we have absolutely no opportunity to reach kids in a way that they will learn.You are a beautiful storyteller.. I am inspired to work on my writing and tell more of my classroom stories. In the busy times during the school year, it's easy to get caught up in things and not remember to share the inspiring, energizing moments.Your students have such a gift in you. And I, by knowing you, also feel gratitude for the gift of being in your network. Thank you.

  4. Greta, this post is so true. So powerful. And so rightly times with many of us returning to work.What I find so encouraging is that you did not let yourself get drawn in with the negativity about Tom. Everyone has the right to start over again, but often we prevent that, we, human beings. Well written, inspiring and true! Thanks!

  5. Greta, what a beautiful blog post! You're so right: you really do need to love students before you meet them. It's all about believing in children and knowing that they're all special. A number of years ago, a student gave me a great big wooden sign that said "Believe" on it as a goodbye present. I have that sign permanently affixed above the door in my classroom. Every day, it reminds me that we need to believe in our students, and we need to care about them enough to want to see them succeed. Your students are lucky to have you as their teacher: someone that really does "love them before you know them."Aviva

  6. Thank you so much for all your wonderful comments.I'm absolutely convinced that love makes the difference. @George: That phrase comes to my mind all the time. I tend to spend a lot of time just sitting in my empty classroom. I read the class list, I imagine each kid. I find this really useful for putting it into practice.I agree with you "kids are always amazing" if we truly believe that, loving them can't be difficult.Thanks for your support and feedback, it really means a lot.I'm planning to start my own blog soon. It'll give me the opportunity to reflect on my teaching and share stories.@Joan: Wow,Joan! Thanks for your words! Your feedback is really important to me! I totally agree. I think that's the key. Kids need to feel loved, kids need to know we trust them. Glad this post inspired you to share your stories. I'm really looking forward to reading them. I always learn so much from you!I'm really glad I 'met' you. You have always been so supportive and encouraging. @Jessica:Wow Jessica! Thanks for your words! So true, negativity tends to cause so much harm. The fact that my dream of being a school teacher was coming true made me feel really motivated and excited. That helped me in order not get involved in all that negativity. This experience has made me realize that whatever happened with my students before doesn't mean I won't be able to do something different.

  7. Thanks Aviva!! I'm really glad you liked my story.Thanks for your kind words too, they mean a lot coming from you."BELIEVE" how powerful is that! It's so true! When we believe in others, we get amazing results.Believe in them and love them. That's the secret. Isn't our job a blessing? Thanks again!

  8. This was such a powerful and moving story, thanks for sharing. A great reminder to "love them before you know them" Love CAN conquer all. The most influential teachers in my past were not the ones who said "I believe in you", they were the ones who proved it.

  9. What a wonderful heartfelt post and profound testament.As a Mom to a gifted ADHD son, I had many challenges with teachers who discounted my son as a behavior problem in 1st grade. His activity and non stop talking were intolerable to them. They tried to put him in their box, instead of meeting him where he was. Not until 3rd grade did we finally have relief, when a teacher like you Greta, loved my son, just as he was. Only then did he begin to flourish! Let us never forget this powerful message you shared:"I learned that teaching is more than just following a curriculum."

  10. Thank you, @gret for sharing such beautiful & timely story. I have been thinking about a student, too, who will be graduating after this year. For many years, I have believed that he has much potential no matter how many times he has messed up at school. But our story is such that we have butted heads & he has not liked me very much. As the school year approaches, I can't help but think of him. I could ignore him and treat him the way he's usually treated by others. But I can't help but think about finding ways to help him to see that he is much greater than what people tell him he is. I failed in many ways in communicating my belief in him. I don't know how this year will end, but I'd like to try my hardest to believe in him, say to him (in a few, but succinct Middle school- appropriate words)that I still believe in him. Love will find a way. Thanks for causing me to think more about my student.

  11. @Edukateme: Thanks a lot for your inspiring words! I'm really glad you liked the post. What you said is so true! Let's not just believe in our kids, but go and prove it!@Lisa:Wow, thanks for your support Lisa! It's just so sad how many teachers just focus on following a curriculum and forget what truly matters. They are so wrong. If only they knew how important and enriching not just for the kids, but also for them it could be… They are missing out the best part of teaching.Thanks for sharing the story about your son with me. @DoremiGirlYou have really touched me with your story. Thanks so much for opening up your heart.It can get difficult at times, I wouldn't give up if I were you. Just stick to your goal no matter what. Sometimes we might think we're not reaching the person, but when we least expect it we start getting results. Kids realize we believe in them and love them, even if they don't show it. Some kids need more time than others.If you want, I can share with you all the activities and things I did with Tom. Seriously, let me know if I can be of any help. Thanks again. I'm really glad my story helped you think more about your student.@Aviva:Thanks again. You are such an important part of my PLN. It's great learning with and from you.

  12. Just a few words to thank Pernille (@4thGrdTeach)When you asked me if I could write for your blog, I felt really honored, because I really admire you.I couldn't believe you had thought of me for this. I'd like to thank you for believing in me and encouraging me to write this. It has been an incredibly enriching experience.Isn't this what teaching is all about? Giving opportunities, making students believe in themselves and encourage them to explore new worlds. You're an awesome and inspiring educator Pernille, your students are lucky to have you. Learning with and from you is a pleasure.

  13. Greta, thank you so much for this wonderful post. I truly do not know what to say, because your post says it all – what a fantastic educator you are, how much you love children and how focused you are on them (I always insist that it is not for us, it is for the kids.) They are so lucky to have you as their teacher as you have touched and continue touching their beautiful hearts. Congratulations, Greta, on your post and on the educator you are.Many thanks, you have moved me so much with this post and so has Thomas.Kindest regards,Vicky

  14. This is a beautiful story. I agree that its so much more than the curriculum.I didn't get into teaching to talk about my favorite subject (hint, its not math). I got into teaching to talk to students. I wanted to be the one that paid attention to them when nobody else was listening. Loved your post, keep writing!

  15. @Jennifer:Thanks for your supportive and encouraging comment.I'm really glad you found it inspiring. Sharing our stories is so important!Thanks again!@VickyThanks a lot! Your comments mean a lot. I totally agree with you, "it's not for us, it's for the kids"You are a wonderful educator, and I'm so lucky I get to learn from you. I must have said it a million times… I'm so glad I "met" you!Thanks again!@CoryThanks for your comment and encouragement to keep writing Cory! Loved what you said: "I wanted to be the one that paid attention to them when nobody else was listening" It really makes a difference when you take your time to LISTEN what your students have to say. When they feel we care about them, something magical takes place. We have a great opportunity of reaching their hearts. We can't waste that opportunity.

  16. What a story to treasure. Reminds me of that classic Teddy Stallard story in so many ways. It's unfortunate we ever have kids like Tom come to us, but it's fortunate there are caring educators out there to watch over them.

  17. @photomatt7 Thanks so much for the comment! What you said is so true, it's a bit of a mixed blessing. Fortunately, there are many teachers out there willing to make a difference. I'm convinced that if we share what we do, we can make those educators who don't believe in that, realize what teaching really is.

  18. That is a beautiful Aha moment. Thank you so much for sharing the story and reminding us that a little love and attention goes a long way. Excellent guest post, I look forward to many more posts from you!

  19. Dear Greta,I asked you to be my first guest blogger because you inspire me. You are always there to talk, to share, to hope along with me. You have been a supporter of my blog, global read aloud, and random tweets ever since I started building a PLN. You deserve all of the praise you get from your guest blog and I hope you get more when you start your own blog. You know that I will be one of your first followers! Your blog inspired a fantastic conversation yesterday with a special ed teacher who approached me to take a child on the autism spectrum. He has a 20 page IEP with only behavior related goals. She told me to read his file later, after I met him, and I told her that it was ok. I already loved him and having him in my room. Thank you for what you do, how you inspire, and the love that you send out.

  20. Gret,Great heartfelt post! That is why we get into education to change lives and plant seeds of belief in children. I think it is so sad when some teachers forget this and put labels in children. Sometimes it is hard to forget that many of the children we see will get told negative things more often than positive. Thanks for sharing this story and reminding us!

  21. @KellyThanks for your encouragement and support Kelly! This experience has been so inspiring and enriching, I just can't wait to start blogging.I agree with you! Love and attention are essential.@PernilleI've said it a million times, and I'll say it again. Thank you! Your support really means a lot. I really admire you. I love talking with you and learning with/from you! I was able to share my story, because you believed in me.Wow! I can't believe my post inspired you to have that conversation! This boy is so lucky! He'll have a fantastic teacher, who not only will love him, but also teach him. I'm sure he'll make great progress. Really looking forward to hearing how it goes. Please keep me posted.@ShellyThanks a lot for your comment Shelly! I loved what you said: "That is why we get into education to change lives and plant seeds of belief in children." Let's never forget this!It's heartbreaking to see there are teachers out there who don't know what teaching is all about. If only they knew they could make a difference…

  22. I just found this post tonight, and you're writing is fabulous and the picture brought me to tears. Thank you.Andrea Nicholshttp://andreanicholsnation.blogspot.com

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