We sometimes catch ourselves getting caught up in the day-to-day work of teaching: the anticipatory set that doubles as a pre-assessment, the mini-lesson and modeling, the gradual release to go off and do this work, reminders about the extension work that’s available, or the on-the-fly assignment that draws on a child’s area of interest and also meets a need for us. We greet kids at the door, keep them from getting themselves into trouble with the gift of proximity, non-verbal cues, and The Look from across the room that often fixes more than one potential issue because no one knows who The Look is actually for, but assumes it’s them.
We do all these things and after a while, it becomes rote, muscle memory taking over, the routines you taught are just as routine for you as they are for the kids.
In my current role, the routines that look so pretty on paper or in my head as I drive into work every day often get interrupted or never even started. Someone’s out sick (or may not make it through the day because one to many kids exhaled the ick into the air and not sleeping well let them catch it), the before-school care is late or doesn’t come in at all, an event needs to be set up or an important part of a first-thing-in-the-morning activity needs to be located, someone can’t make it in due to car trouble or traffic or weather, or I just flat forgot something that seemed to suddenly appear on my calendar (even if it had been there a while and I put it there myself…). When I was teaching in my own classroom, few of these things really impacted my day unless it was a teammate out or the fact that I forgot a field trip or classroom event. The ebb and flow of the day was generally the same and there was a sense of calm about it all.
“I will not embrace frantic,” a friend often says when things are not going according to the beautiful plan she had in her head. It’s hard not to embrace it some days, particularly when you want to wrestle it to the ground and strangle it altogether for messing up your day.
But there are moments that remind me that for all the routines that have become rote, for all the plans that explode upon arrival, there’s one thing that manages to weave itself into every day that we shouldn’t forget.
Every classroom management program on the planet talks about the importance of relationship with kids and their families. That’s how self-managing classroom communities get created. That’s what allows learning to happen every day even when there’s conflict. That’s what makes the dreaded phone call home about a problem in class have a reasonable, solution-focused outcome. Relationship with colleagues is just as important–when you have to ask a favor, want to give praise or kudos or support, or need to talk through something difficult. Creating good relationships with the people we serve and do this Big Work alongside make doing our job a little easier.
It’s more than just that though.
Relationship is what keeps kids coming back to your classroom because they know you have squishy dice, a full set of rulers or whiteboards, calligraphy pens and books for a project in another class, the grammar book they know they can find information in that you’ll lend them because you taught them long ago that you’re willing and they know to return things they borrow. It’s what leads them to your classroom for a pencil to take to class so they don’t get admonished for losing yet another one by a teacher down the hall.
It’s what gives a nurturing colleague an idea to share with an entire region of kids in support of some of their own.
Relationship is what sends messages to the littles who barely know who you are that you like hugs in the morning and love being read to when your kids are with the encore teacher. They watch and listen to your interactions with the kids who were once yours pretty carefully to decide how to handle you. When they see the way you talk to you and treat other kids, it helps them see that you are ok, not scary, and someone they can go to when they need a band-aid, help with writing (maybe math too), or just to talk to when they’re sad.
And the best thing, I think: relationship is what shows kids who are new to the school when you aren’t in the classroom anymore that you will always have their back, even when they make mistakes–doesn’t mean you won’t call them on it, but you’re there to help them grow and learn from it. It’s the message they get from older kids who’ve known you their whole lives that you’re looking out for their best interests and want to see them be successful beyond the classroom. Street cred matters.
Somehow that message gets down the hall to the little ones who ask to have lunch with you, just because, and read you page after page of the big Pokemon book with all the descriptions, truly worried about you because you admit you haven’t played Pokemon Go from anywhere beyond your couch at home in over a year (srsly, who doesn’t play it all the time if they are old enough to have a phone!?) and only have 74 Pokemon and you’ve had the app for three years.
And it’s why littles want to crawl into your chair with you to read or tell you about their hamster who passed away last week, and why they ask you to play line tag at 7am when the first cup of coffee isn’t even halfway consumed, and why they sing you happy birthday at the top of their six-year-old lungs…or 13-year-old lungs, complete with cracking voices and Jazz Hands in the middle of the hallway during a transition. And you tear up for both of them for different reasons.
The proverbial “they” say that teachers don’t teach for the money or the fame, and they’re right. We teach, even once we’re outside the classroom, because of the relationships we get to create with kids and their families, colleagues, and the community as a whole. Every one of us is an ambassador for our profession, and though we can’t hide the exhaustion we feel most days by October, we can still remind each other why we do this Big Work:
Teaching is the profession that makes all others possible.
The modeling we do of caring, compassionate, and healthy relationships with one another, with the kids we serve, and with our families is what will help these young people go off into the world and be good people who do their own Big Work.