Excerpt taken from an essay I wrote:
If a surgeon performs a surgery and doesn’t make a single mistake–and the patient still dies–the surgeon does not pat himself on the back and consider it a successful surgery. Likewise, if I do everything I know to do in my efforts to reach a child yet fail to change that child in a positive way, then “the surgery” was not successful. A child’s failure is my failure. I have to be willing and able to continue to try things with a student until I find what it will takes to change that student. In education, there are certain things that every teacher is required to do: teach the lesson, cover the standards, call parents for failures, and be professional. Teaching is not a bunch of boxes that need to be checked off. Doing the bare minimum does not reach children. There have been many children over the years I did not reach. I tried everything I could with them, but I did not pat myself on the back and say “Good job for trying.” Trying is not succeeding, so I consider that child a failure on my part.
Being a natural-born athlete, sports have always come easily to me. I was usually the star of the team. Then one day I took up golf. It only took a few rounds for me to realize that I hated it, not because it wasn’t any fun but because I was horrible at it. People do not enjoy doing things they don’t do well. If I can teach my students to be good at math, then they will like it. If they learn to like it, then they will spend more time doing it and will ultimately get better. When a child says, “I hate school,” he is not really saying he hates school. What he is saying is “I hate failure.” Why does a first grader love school, but in junior high the same student hates it? I believe this is based on past successes and failures. When a child begins a new school year, he opens the window of his heart to the teacher and says, “I am going to give you a chance because I believe I can learn.” Some students barely crack the window while some fling it wide open, each based on his/her past experiences in school. The art of teaching is finding a way to keep the window open. I believe this is done by building lots of small successes each day for every child. This not only keeps the window open, but it opens it even wider. Success breeds success. If I can somehow make children believe that they are good at whatever I am teaching them, then they will want to learn and will enjoy doing it. Any child who cannot be reached is a child who is saying “I don’t trust that you can change me.”
My goal each school year is to make sure all of my students are successful. I will do whatever it takes to make sure they have high grades early on. If a student misses a question, I don’t say it’s wrong. I say, “You were so close; if not for that one mistake.” Then we correct it. I teach to mastery, working one-on-one with each student until all are successful. Slowly I begin to see the culture of my classroom change. Students no longer complain when asked to do math; actually, they are happy to do it because they understand. That is the art of teaching.
An amazing thing happens each year around Christmas. I offer to sit down and work with anyone struggling, but no one needs help, because they all get it. How does this happen? I have come to realize it’s a million “little things.” Being consistent with classroom rules and not allowing for excuses about homework, laziness, or disruptive behavior, I am not only creating an environment conducive to learning but also communicating to students that I believe in them. I make it my goal to know about each child I teach. The simple gesture of greeting them at the door, shaking their hands, and asking the simple but important question, “How are you doing today?” goes a long way in establishing trust with students.