I try to create relationships with students that are honest and trusting. To that end, when I tell them I want them to be honest, I mean it. Even if they have to tell me something difficult.
Today I asked my homeroom students to write letters to us, their 4th grade teachers. It’s a great mid-year exercise, it is one more place for them to reflect and give us feedback, and it’s an opportunity to set a school-related goal right before we meet with their parents at conferences in a couple of weeks.
I appreciate the kind words and the praise of things they love. Of course I feel good about the affirmation that what I do matters and is helpful. There is humor – “What I like least is homework, of course!” There is insight into skills that they recognize they need to develop right now as learners.
I wonder though about the non-specific letters, the ones that indicate that things are just fine with no elaboration. Are they really fine and this student doesn’t want to write any more? Or do they not trust that I want them to be honest and I’m open to hearing a hard truth? Or perhaps, as with one student, they don’t want to put their ideas on paper, but they are willing to open up a little bit when talking in person.
There is honest truth about what they need. Perhaps more challenge in a specific area. That can sometimes be hard to create, but it’s important to meet the range of learning differences present in my classroom. My co-teacher and I will need to put our heads together and think on it. We need to find solutions for these kids.
And then there is the brave soul who shares with me a hard truth. Something I’ve done that’s embarrassing. Ouch. That makes me pause and reflect. Immediately, I make plans in my head to talk directly and privately with that student. To apologize. To acknowledge my mistake. To brainstorm what I could do differently to convey the message I want this child to hear. To brainstorm how I can help this child be less silly, which just happens to be the student’s chosen goal for the second half of the year. This is a child who recognizes there is work to be done and wants to be treated respectfully. That’s fair.
This is about creating trusting relationships. Relationships are at the heart of learning, and I want to do my best by these sweet kids entrusted to my care. I hope that by responding to the needs they express to me in writing that I am building their self-advocacy skills for the future.
Teaching is hard work.