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Why Do Students Love Certain Teachers? Even the “Gumpy” Ones.

If you read my article “How I Was Accused of Child Neglect,” you know we have had some big changes in our household with our first-grader starting a new school this week. So far, we are off to a good start!

Last week, I only described one element of our challenges with the previous school. I chose to avoid getting off on other tangents, but there were other issues that led to our decision to switch schools.

About five months ago, while signing in to volunteer at the school, I overheard the principal speaking a few feet away from me, obviously disgruntled about something. I thought to myself, “Wow, I don’t know what he is saying, but this sounds like a conversation that should be taken behind closed doors.”

Imagine my surprise when I heard him say my son’s name. (Details of the encounter can be found here.) After inquiring (and seriously startling him), I learned that he had a concern over something on Mark’s medical form.

It was a minor issue, but he was extraordinarily inappropriate about it. (So much for the “strict confidentiality” that is specifically promised on said medical form!)

While volunteering again, two months ago, I was waiting in the doorway of my son’s classroom for two students to join me in the hall. While they approached me, something behind me caught my attention. I heard an adult speaking to a child in a tone so rude and disrespectful I actually thought, “Wow, I haven’t heard someone talk like that since I taught at XYZ School with Mrs. Shoulda-Retired-Ten-Years-Ago.”

As I turned to see what was going on, I discovered this sour tone was coming from one of the “LSS” teachers (LSS stands for Learning Support Staff; they assist with the teaching of reading by pulling small groups of students for instruction). Low and behold, she was talking to my son!

I know Mark is not perfect. If he does something wrong, I support appropriate consequences. But this teacher did not have a specific issue; she was just putting him down. She saw me look at her, but did not know I was Mark’s mom.

When I approached her a few minutes later asking, “Is something going on with Mark?” she gave me a perturbed look. I think she thought I was another mom sticking my nose into someone else’s business. When I introduced myself as Mark’s mom, she went white!

I began looking for new schools that day. I volunteered in the school for a grand total of four hours a month. If I “just happened” to walk into those two incidents, what was happening when I was not there?

Mark “accidently” confirmed my concerns a couple of weeks later, when he was clearly upset about something. It was a struggle getting information out of him and I was careful to avoid leading questions, but he eventually told me in a very timid tone, “Mama, everyone upstairs (in the LSS room) is really mean to me.”

I am concerned that the LSS teachers may have been doing more harm than good. I certainly don’t blame them for all of Mark’s struggles, but I have noticed that Mark is terrified to attempt any word he does not know with 100% certainty. His confidence has clearly taken a hit! I hope I have caught the problem in time.

Yesterday, however, I was in the new school. I sat in the hall, just outside the office, to fill out paperwork. I had a front-row seat to dozens of casual interactions. It was the first day of school after spring break and several teachers were greeting students pleasantly and welcoming them back to school.

It was such a simple thing. In fact, in other circumstances, I would likely have taken those greetings for granted…shouldn’t all teachers welcome students with such friendliness? Maybe so. But, it was truly heart-warming to witness this simple act of respect.

That moment reminded me of something I once heard when I was a classroom teacher, feeling inadequate because I could never do everything I wanted or felt I needed to do for my students. The quote was, “Students will not remember what they learned from you, but how they *felt* in your presence.” Sitting in this new school, I realized how much truth there was to that statement!

I also remembered my mom’s observation of a teacher I had in high school, Mr. Edwards. Mom always thought he was a bit “gumpy.” Mom is a very kind-hearted person who rarely ever notices, let alone judges, someone based on their “gumpiness,” so her observations about Mr. Edwards were rather telling.

Nonetheless, she noted with great admiration how we reacted to Mr. Edwards when we saw him at basketball games and other school events. She said, “Every time students pass him, they light up! They say ‘Hi’, slap him five, or joke with him. I’m amazed by how the students respond to him!” She once asked me why it was that Mr. Edwards was so respected. “Is he a really good teacher?” she asked.

Truth be told, he was not the most riveting teacher in the world. Not even close. I thought for a moment and concluded, “It must be that he just loves us…and we know it.”

Certainly, teachers need more skills than to just *care* for their students, but that is a basic requirement and can strongly make up for other deficiencies. I know for a fact that MOST teachers are respectful and caring of their students. They often are taken for granted. After my recent experiences, however, I want to take this opportunity to recognize those teachers who accomplish so much, simply because they care! THANK YOU for what you do.

-Susan Kruger

 


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