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Connect – to relate to or be in harmony with another person, one’s work, etc. ; to establish communication between; put in communication.
Connecting is a huge part of teaching. We are constantly trying to connect to our students, to find parts of our own lives and personalities that click with 72 other lives and personalities. Teaching is a playground for finding which facet of your personality works best with which student and making those personal connections so that a student may eventually connect to the material you’re trying to teach them. It’s exhausting, but it’s worth it to change and reinvent yourself 72 different times a day just to make a little progress. We need to see those neurons firing in the glint in a student’s eye or in that moment of shared laughter.
So, what do we do when that connection got lost or broken and you can’t seem to fix it? I have a student who refuses to forgive me for what they feel was unfair punishment in late September, early October. As we are rapidly approaching February, we’re still struggling. There were student tears before Thanksgiving and student tears again yesterday as the result of this student’s mounting frustration with me. I’m trying desperately to find a way to relate to this student who is smart, but bored, and angry, but I don’t know at what, this student who is condescending, but has this desire to be liked and appreciated. I know that we probably share a lot of personality traits, but the connection seems closed ever since they feel they were wrongly punished. They’ve hung up the phone on me. Despite my attempts to dial back in, they let it go to voicemail. It’s only in those moments where they’re so frustrated with me that they break down that they seem willing to listen.
This isn’t healthy. It’s no good. I have to find a way to break through again. I have to find my inroad to this student so that our last four months together aren’t a disaster. I can’t give up and write them off as much as they frustrate me in the way they’ve written me off. If my classroom is a puzzle full of different pieces and connections, I’m still the only piece I can change.
The part of this broken connection that frustrates me the most is that I don’t want to let this student down as far as their education goes this year. I truly believe that my subject is important and that it can be powerful and that I’m teaching skills they’ll need next year and the year after that and the year after that until they can no longer write or read, but maybe I’m overestimating how much I can do and how much it matters. I know that we as teachers cannot possibly connect and make a difference for every student we have, but I can’t let this go. I have to do all that I can to repair this faulty connection. I can’t give up on them because they’re too important, just like all of my students.
All of this continually leaves me with the question, what can I try next? What can I do to create something positive and fulfilling with this student? How can I get them to listen to me and respect me enough to at least consider what I say? I’m not asking for perfection or friendliness, I’m just asking for a chance to teach them something. Perhaps that’s not the point though. Perhaps this student is supposed to teach me more than I could ever teach them this year, but either way, I’m not giving up on breaking through. I’m not giving up on connecting.
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Brian Marggraf, Author of Dream Brother: A Novel, Independent publishing advocate, New York City dweller
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New York City based photographer STEFAN FALKE visits artists who live and work on both sides of the 2000 miles long U.S.- Mexico border to document the vibrant culture of the region for his ongoing project. All photos and texts © Stefan Falke (No use without written permission by the author)