Typically, in relationships, we start off with the small talk which sometimes leads to deeper conversations. Now this relationship game is a process- as we know. If they make it past the first few dates and pass all of your tests, you began to feel a little more comfortable and began desiring to spend more quality time with that person. When you see one another there are genuine smiles, you enjoy sharing the same space, you engage in dialogue, you learn about one another, and you ultimately meet who that person really is. When disagreements occur, you probably tend to draw back. It’s not always because you are afraid of how they may react but often times because you don’t want to reveal the ounce of craziness you have. If you like that person enough, you forgive and love through it.
Building Relationships with Students 101
Notice we did not, at any point, tell our potential mate:
- You are entering my territory. I make the rules and you will follow them.
- I’m not your friend so don’t play with me.
- I have the degree so I don’t need this- you do.
- Try me. (Well, you may say this one, but…)
For the most part, we don’t treat the person we want to build a relationship or friendship with like this. If you do- you probably want to reconsider your approach, lol. However, the point is: You can’t rush or bully someone into comfortability; you have to love them into it. Here are three essentials to keep in mind when building positive and authentic relationships with students:
They will absolutely test you.
One phrase that I challenge educators to move away from is “They are kids. They are supposed to….” I want to banish this way of thinking because 90% of the things we use that tag line on, 100% of adults do daily. Testing a person is one of them. Pushing them to their limits to see how much they can handle is another one. Now, I’m not saying it is right to do; however, I am making it known that it is a natural human behavior to test the limits. Therefore, prepare yourself now for when students try you later.
Teacher Tip: Create a positive aura within your classroom on Day 1. Develop a relationship of mutual respect between yourself and students AND between students and their peers. These actions will not alleviate the reality of kids testing you. However, putting certain expectations in place will make them think twice about it. It will also help them understand why their actions have resulted in a logical consequence. Try not to force the students to trust you as they are vetting you just as you are with them.
You must accept the baggage.
Erykah Badu has a song that says:
Bag lady you gone hurt your back
Dragging all them bags like that
I guess nobody ever told you
All you must hold onto, is you, is you, is you
One day all them bags gon’ get in your way (3x)
One day all them bags gon’ get in your way, so pack light,
Pack light, mm, pack light, pack light, oh ooh.
Our reality as educators is simple: We will encounter students who come with more heart- wrenching baggage than others and guess what- we can’t start singing “Bag Lady” to them. They can’t pack light. The baggage will get in the way. We have to love, care, support, challenge, and push them through it. We are living in a time where our students are raising their siblings, hotel room 206 is where they rest their head every night, the cafeteria food is their meal that has been prepped, and your classroom should serve as a safe haven for them relax and gain a win. Our job is SO serious that it can literally influence the direction of a child’s life. The last thing we want to do is ignore the child’s reality or treat them in a way that makes them feel their reality will never change.
Teacher Tip: Do not view your students with custom shades that transforms every child into one type. You must make an effort to know your students as individuals without labels. One good start is to ask yourself: (1) Have I made myself knowledgeable about the students’ ethnic, cultural, and racial identities? (2) How can I incorporate my students’ culture into the curriculum? (3) Do I allow my students to collaborate with one another to break stereotypes and unconscious bias towards other races?
You must learn to forgive.
Imagine this: You have a nine year old child sitting in your classroom who is learning what emotions are and how to express themselves. You give them an assignment that is challenging for them due to academic gaps created within the previous grade level. The child starts to misbehave and disturb the class. After being yelled at, they completely shut down and will not talk to anyone. Eventually this behavior becomes the norm and the relationship goes downhill due to the relationship not being established from the start. Now you enter the class thinking to yourself “Why is this child never absent?”, “How many long forms do I need to complete to get them removed from my class?”, and “When is the bell going to ring?”
Now imagine this: You have dated your spouse for six months now and everything is going smoothly. You both have acknowledged and accepted one another’s flaws and are continuing the relationship with high hopes. Your spouse randomly text you to get dressed for a special dinner and concert. After putting on your shoes you checked your phone all to see that the date was cancelled due to a forgotten work commitment. You basically flip out by talking to yourself for 15 minutes, pacing the room in your nice outfit, then eventually release your frustration.
The interesting part about these scenarios is that if an adult has difficulty balancing their emotions and responding appropriately in a tense situation… how exactly can we expect our students who are learning what emotions are to respond accordingly 100% of the time? It’s impossible. Just how we will probably forgive our spouse who kept us waiting- we must find ways to put our pride aside and forgive our students who are looking to learn from us.
Teacher Tip: I just have one thing to say- Forgive that child who gives you problems. Forgive them. Trust them again. Love them again. Teach them again. For two reasons: (1) The child needs you and longs for your ability to make it all right. (2) Your sanity depends on it. Pick your battles.
You were chosen to be an educator which is not an easy job. It is our duty to unite, as one, and push one another to remember our why. The center of it all involves every child we teach so I challenge you to…
Make the choice, everyday, to love each of your students into comfortability.