It has struck me as of late, that we seem to be forgetting something. Or someone. Or many someones. Ones who should be at the front of every single thought that we have and every single action that we take.
It seems to me that we have been forgetting about our students.
Not about teaching them, providing them with rich curriculum, instructing them in the ways that are most effective, giving them the tools they need to connect to the global community they are a part of. These things we have not forgotten. These things seem to occupy much of the time and space of our discussions.
But it seems to me that we have been forgetting about the students themselves. The human beings sitting right next to us. The living, breathing, dreaming, hurting, crying, hoping, wishing human beings that are the reason we all got into this job in the first place.
These thoughts began to swirl around in my brain this past Tuesday as I read the incredibly brave and honest posts on the struggles with mental illness that made up the beautiful and courageous #semicolonEDU landscape. I read and listened to stories, some of which were like my own and some of which were so very different. And what I heard throughout so many stories was the authors’ need to raise awareness on mental illness issues for the sake of educators and for the sake of our students.
And I started to wonder why we needed so many movements that asked us to remember the struggles of our students and the issues in their lives. #LGBTeach is begging for educators to think about the struggles of our LGBT students. #EduColor is begging for educators to think about the issues of race and how they are intertwined in every aspect of our students’ lives. And now #semicolonEDU is begging for educators to think about the issues of mental illness that are present in the daily lives of so many of our students.
Why do we need all of this?
And then I realized. It is because it is so easy to forget. It is so easy to forget the children who we teach and the struggles that they face when we are constantly surrounded by demands to think about other things. We are asked to think about test scores, we are asked to think about technology, we are asked to think about instructional strategies, we are asked to think about teacher evaluations and policy and funding and textbooks and so. many. other things. And while these things are important, they will never be as important as the beings that walk through our doors every day and look to us to notice them.
And it is so easy for us to forget.
We work in districts that will spend countless days and countless hours and countless dollars on professional development to ensure consistency and to ensure we are ready for the big standardized tests and to ensure that we have the latest technology or the most comprehensive assessments and yet our districts relegate topics like suicide prevention and sexual abuse warning signs to ineffective online training just to meet state mandates.
We spend days and weeks and months talking about curriculum, instruction and assessment. We spend so much time on these topics that many teachers begin to ask, “Well what else is there to think about?” And that question makes me want to scream. That question breaks my heart. What else is there to think about? What about the students? What about their well-being? What about how we can see the many ways that they are hurting and how we can help to make that better? Where is our professional development on that? When does that get figured into the budget?
And when we don’t set aside time to think about our students, as humans, then we find ourselves spending our own time talking about things that just don’t matter. We waste time talking about the right titles for school principals. We waste time arguing about whether or not teachers were cliquey at the last conference that we went to. We waste time shaming other teachers for not doing things the way that we do them. We waste time arguing about which instructional strategy is the more effective than any of the others. As if any of that matters if our students are hurting. As if any of that makes a difference if our students feel as if we don’t understand them or understand their lives. As if any of that makes one iota of difference if we have forgotten to think about our students first.
So, for me, it is important every once and awhile to remember to take a step back. To refocus on what is truly important. To listen to the students sitting right next to me and to realize that the words coming out of their mouths are the most important words that I could ever hear. To take a second and just remember that nothing is more important than loving and accepting the students who walk through our doors every day. And as we gear up for another school year we have this amazing chance to do it all better this time. From day one we get to start over with a brand new group of students and make them feel as if they are the most important thing in our world inside of that classroom. And THAT. That fills me with tremendous hope.