Why Connecting With My Students Is Just as Important as Teaching Them

Getting the chance to be a support system for the children I teach reminds me why I became an educator in the first place.

Courtesy of maroke / Shutterstock
Courtesy of maroke / Shutterstock

I’ve found that no matter what grade I teach, it’s easy for me to get consumed in wanting to do all I can for my school, my students, and my students’ families. As a result, I tend to put myself and my own family second. I teach at a Title 1 school in a high-poverty area. With that in mind, I am always looking for ways to make strong school-family connections, as well as make sure my students are learning, engaged, and getting the best experience that I can provide for them. When I feel like I’m getting overwhelmed or burned out, I use different methods to help myself keep it together and stay strong. No matter what I choose to do, I always keep in mind that the students are more than test scores or students in an academic sense — they are people.

One strategy I do is to make sure that, if I get invited to an event for a student (which happens frequently), I make the time to go. This cheers me up while ensuring the students have a support system at school. The events range from church choirs and pow wows to sporting events and gymnastic meets. I also am able to connect with the families. Some families aren’t able to make it to school for whatever reason and appreciate the support outside of school. Between moments outside of class, seeing students enjoy after-school tutoring, and just witnessing kids grow and feel smart in a multitude of ways during school means everything to me.

I have lived in North Carolina since 2014, and have found that going on my own adventures around the state is relaxing while giving me teaching inspiration as well. I also have found that taking time for myself and taking time away from social media gives me more perspective. One routine that I have to feel like I’m staying at my best is to write grants. Through Donorschoose.org, Bright Ideas, and other similar organizations, I assist both my own classroom and, at times, the entire student body of our school. Researching and writing grants is not only cathartic for me but it is also a way I can help the people at my school personally and academically. That means everything to me.

One practice I have that keeps the never-ending to-do list at bay is to keep organization a top priority. As educators, we typically find ourselves multi-tasking. Factor in unrelated priorities outside of work, and it can turn stressful very easily. I utilize my Google calendar, as well as writing things down by hand. I like being involved in PTA, committees, and other organizations, but if I didn’t stay on top of things, it wouldn’t be worth taking part in anything extra. By staying organized, I am able to stay on top of any and all deadlines while still budgeting my time wisely for anything else that needs my attention — including free time!

This is a bit repetitive, but I renew my energy by being there for my students outside of school. In my opinion, making connections with children is just as important as teaching them academic content. In trying times, when I see students making strides and enjoying life, I’m reminded of why I went into teaching. I also renew my energy by talking to coworkers, family (all of whom live outside of the state), and friends who aren’t educators. This helps me stay positive and keep non-school relationships strong.

One piece of advice that I would have loved to have known during my first year is that you are going to want to quit teaching at one point in your career — that is normal! I would say that finding yourself crying is not a sign of failure. It is normal to have days or moments when you feel like a failure. If you maintain a positive mindset, seek help as needed, and not close yourself off from loved ones and coworkers, then everything will work itself out.

When I came to North Carolina for the first time, I came from a completely different “world” in Pennsylvania. I understood I was moving to teach at a Title 1 school in a high poverty area and was given insight when I first got settled. It was quite the learning experience to see different cultures, dynamics, and behaviors that weren’t present where I grew up. I felt like I wasn’t giving my students all that I could, even though I was spending more than I could afford. Over time, I began to feel more and more at home teaching here.

Thrive Global is partnering with DonorsChoose, the leading platform for giving to public schools, on a new special section, How Teachers Thrive, to share the emotional and self-care resources teachers need to improve their well-being. If you want to help teachers create a more equitable playing field for all students, find a classroom project that inspires you on DonorsChoose.org, and enter the promo code THRIVE during checkout to have your donation DOUBLED during the month of August!

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