When I first meet someone, I want to know that they have a good and kind heart. Lots of other things matter, of course, but for me that is at the center of it all. So when I am meeting someone for the first time, the fact that I am a caring person is the first thing I seek to establish. It's like I'm saying, "Hi, my name is Stacy, and I am a nice person." Last week was Back to School night at my school. In seven minutes for each classroom period, I have the opportunity to introduce myself to the parents of my students, to explain the courses I am teaching, and basically to begin to make a connection. I find it extremely nerve-wracking.
This is my 14th year as a teacher, and my 6th year at this school, so it's not as if I lack experience at this task. And both the parents and I want to make a good impression, so I probably shouldn't worry as much as I do. In meeting the parents, I follow the same basic principle that I apply in my classroom. The first thing I want to establish with my students is the fact that I care about them. I want them to know how much they matter to me. To help them know how much I care, I introduce myself each year by disclosing personal information. I tell them different things each year. This year, I told them about my son, the fact that I have lived in 4 states, and I told them about the things that I like to do with my free time (reading, gardening, cooking). I believe that students will take greater risks for a teacher whom they trust and for a teacher whom they believe cares about them. So I work very hard to foster that relationship early on, so that they will work hard for me all year long.
With the parents, it's a little more complicated. I want them to know that I care about their children. And I want them to understand that I will spend the year pushing their child to be a confident, independent learner. This year, I'm teaching seniors, juniors, and frosh students and so I remind the parents that in one, two, or four years, their child will be sitting in a college classroom. The folks and pushy Ms. Sassafras will not be there, and so the students must be able to get the job done on their own. I remind them that the measure of our success is not the receipt of a high school diploma, but, rather, a successful college experience.
This week, I'll be on the other side of the desk, as I attend Back to School night for the lower school and hear from my child's teacher. And as a parent, I want to know that she cares about my child. I've already met her and she's terrific. With good humor and kindness, she has helped JT to navigate the second grade with a broken leg. But most importantly, he thinks that she hung the moon. So she's met the test I apply to my relationship with my students: I believe that she cares about my son.