Be the change, being a teacher, being me

The Teachers Tell Us…

A reflection…

Working through my keynote for this morning and I keep coming back to this moment from my own students – I asked my students who the “bad” kids were and they answered, “The teachers tell us…”

Even though I was there to witness it, it still hits hard every single time I see it. The power we wield, as educators, as adults, in how human beings see each other is astounding. It is something I carry with me every single time I teach, that through my actions, whether conscious or not, I will shape how a child’s humanity is potentially seen by others. While not singlehandedly determining the narrative, my presence, my being will provide others with a road map of how to see themselves and others.

It is something I don’t feel we spend enough time discussing, pondering, and helping us shape our teaching experiences.

And it starts on the very first day where we explain through our rules what “good kids” do and a child looks at that list and doesn’t see themselves.

That quote is 5 years old and yet, I wonder how many kids would still say something like that in schools across the world.

How many kids would consider themselves “bad” kids because that is the legacy we make for them?

Or how we label entire grade levels as “hard” groups or other awful titles and then wonder why they live up to it?

Words matter, actions matter, and the way we help children shape their identities in school to the point of where some are trying to succeed despite us is something to sit with, and then something to do something about.

Because as the mother of a child who felt unsafe at school due to bullying, who felt her teacher hated her in kindergarten, that was exactly the legacy she thought she should live up to. A child who didn’t belong, who was angry, who was broken.

And as a teacher who continues to screw up, despite her best intentions, I have realized that the least I can do is ask the very kids I teach whether they feel safe and respected and if they tell me no, then do something about it.

Because then, perhaps, we can change the narrative.

8 thoughts on “The Teachers Tell Us…”

  1. I made it my job to love every kid and through my day to day interactions I let them know I was not going to let them down. It began before school started. I phoned every child beginning the weekend before school. Brief conversations and with a parent as well. Had a series of questions I would ask. True ice breaker. It them I cared. Then I went on to prove it every day. Perfect? No. But that’s where an apology, an honest explanation. a plan comes in. My beginning the year took a good week or more. Have always wanted to write my story. It worked. For me and my kids. Gr. 5 and 3. Always a work in progress. You are right. Haim Ginott said it in his wonderful book Between Teacher and Child: (paraphrasing) teachers create the weather in their classrooms. The whole quote is worth finding and so true. You have lucky students. And those who read your blog/books are lucky, too. (Would you elaborate as to why your child felt her K teacher hated her? Really curious what made her think that. My granddaughter is 3.5. These things concern me for her now, naturally, but in general. I hope you were able to work with that teacher…. )

  2. Completely agree. This was a rude awakening for me early in my career. I teach Kindergarten and I had my students give me feedback at the end of the year. I asked “what are some things my teacher likes” and “what are some things my teacher does not like”. Many wrote names of students in response! I was horrified. I work very hard today to make sure to treat everyone as my favorite students now. It’s not always easy because we have to redirect behavior but I really try to focus on the behavior and not the labels.

  3. Every child needs to know that they’re your favorite. For those students that are hard to like, and you know you have them, you sometimes have to dig deep to change your mindset. Challenge yourself and make it your mission. Find a way to make a connection. It’s there and it’s so worth it. Just think of the difference that can make in the relationship you have with that child.

  4. Your keynote was super powerful this morning. Every interaction matters. Even though I frequently fail, I try to keep that at the forefront of my mind each day. Thank you for visiting Indiana today.

  5. Pernille,
    Thank you for sharing your vulnerability and imperfections with us. Every time I have read a post of yours in the past two months, I have said – that is exactly what I am struggling with— not being enough, doing enough, reaching enough students. You remind us in a healthy way why we call it teaching practice not teaching perfect. Thank you.

    1. We have a “handover” session at the end of each year to get an insight on the new group coming to us. Supposedly, an objective exercise to talk about the needs, challenges and the strengths of the students. However, there is invariably the subjective response when a particular name is mentioned. I try to make a point of ignoring these comments, and believe every child is entitled to a fresh start each year. The burden of carrying a reputation, which may not even be of their own doing, is far too great for a young child. Children are a lot more perceptive than we realise.

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