This week, I’ve been thinking a lot about how special the ability is to make people feel special. If it’s sincere, it might be one of the best qualities a human can have. It’s certainly one of the most important characteristics of successful teachers.
The reason that the topic is on my mind is because I had to write about the influence that a “teaching professional” had on me, so I chose my favorite teacher who taught me the value of making students feel special and valued.
When he was my teacher, back when I was 16, I didn’t realize the significance of his ability to make students (me included) feel valued. No…the significance of that didn’t come to me until I was already in the first few years of my own teaching career.
And then it hit me hard and fast, the proverbial “Aha” moment that changed everything for me as a teacher. I remember the moment with the clarity befitting something grander–like the first time I ever won a race or the first time I said, “I love you” to a man–and meant it.
I heard him, the “teaching professional,” say to a student, “Don’t worry: Uncle Mark will take care of you.” I had heard the “Uncle Mark” term from him before that, and I thought it was rather cute…but not necessarily significant.
On this particular day, though, I realized–all at once–that he was making sure that the student felt special, valued and in safe hands.
From that day on (which was probably 22 or 23 year ago), I have tried to do the same, with probably much less success than “Uncle Mark” had.
It’s hard to do. Sometimes it’s nearly impossible. Last Friday, for example, I was stressed out, with 12 hours of work to do in two hours, deadlines pressing in on me, and a student came to my desk for help. I had to consciously stop multi-tasking and remind myself that this was a teenager in need and that my 12 hours of work could wait (even though it really couldn’t). I did it that time: I successfully got out of my own head for a moment to focus on the needs of wonderful teenager in front of me.
However, I know that I am often unsuccessful at it. To me, it’s almost horrifying when a student starts a question or request with, “I know you’re busy, but…,” because then I know that I have let deadlines and stress and being exhausted show through.
I am even worse at it with people who are not my students or my sons. In fact, just a little while ago, my own mother stopped by and I didn’t stop the kitchen chores that I was doing. Sure, I chatted with her, but I did so while also cooking and wiping down the counter and putting dishes away.
I have a feeling that I am not alone, though. Look around and see how often people are not paying attention to people, are not making them feel valued and special and in safe hands.
It’s important. Even more so for teachers, I think.
More valuable than curriculum and subject-content is a teacher’s ability to make students feel special. Not for the sake of making them feel special, but because students who feel special will produce special results for their teachers: will learn and grow and read and write–and will do it well (or at least to the best of their ability). They’ll walk through fire.
Maybe we all need to ask ourselves that: who will walk through metaphorical fire for us?