‘I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but they will never forget how you made them feel.’
There is some contention about whether the late, great Maya Angelou was the first to utter these word, but whoever should be credited with this quote obviously understood the importance of relationships and human connection.
As we near the end of another school year, we are often compelled become reflective. In this time of contemplation, I wonder how you would answer the question- how will my students remember me? What, in years to come, will they remember about the way I made them feel?
We can all recall our favourite teachers- while not all the details, there is a feeling that is evoked when we reminisce. My teacher in Year One is easy to call to mind. She possessed a special combination of firmness and fairness and instilled in me a belief that I could write things that people would want to read. I ran into her a few years back and it was as though the passage of time had not passed- I still felt safe and respected in her presence. It was a happy reunion. We added each other on Facebook.
I can also still remember my least favourite teacher- and thinking about them brings up feelings that are uncomfortable decades later. My year four teacher- we’ll call her Mrs White- was extremely firm but without the lovely balance of fair thrown in. She was punitive, authoritarian and I can’t ever remember anyone having fun in her class. While I’m not suggesting Mrs White was a terrible person, she definitely had very clear ideas about the role of the teacher and that of her students in the classroom, and the power sat firmly in her court.
Writing this, a memory comes to mind, the exact details a little fuzzy but the feelings still crystal clear. I had finished my maths work early, which was not something to be celebrated in Mrs White’s class. Instead of sitting idly waiting for my peers to complete the task as was the expected routine, I pulled out from my wooden desk some writing I was working on (I really thought I was penning the next great Australian novel at ten years old!). I didn’t notice her approaching my desk, but in an instant my ‘book’ was pulled out from under me and Mrs White was asking me angrily what I thought I was doing wasting her maths lesson with my silly stories? 28 sets of eyes turned to observe the spectacle as Mrs White instructed me to put the book away in my bag and never take it out in class again.
I felt so many emotions as I made the walk to the front of the classroom towards the bag rack with my writing in my hand- anger, surprise, confusion, resentment and most clearly, the intense, searing sense of shame. I can still feel it right now.
In every moment as a teacher, we are presented with choices. We get to choose our responses to every interaction we are part of. We have a choice to respond with curiosity and compassion, or with assumptions and judgement. It is the culmination of these responses that will determine how we make our students feel. And how they will remember us 30 years later. Which do you most often choose?
Wishing you all a restful and well-earned summer break.
Check out other articles Kirsty has written here.