All teachers sometimes feel overwhelmed by frustration and negativity. It's easy to get bogged down by the day-to-day responsibilities of teaching, but sometimes the littlest things can snap you out of it. For example, one of my kindergarten students recently handed me a drawing of the two of us that said, "You r the best techr." Moments like this motivate me to keep on keeping on.
Here are three student success stories that reaffirmed my love of teaching and reminded me why I keep doing this job.
1. Learning Leaps
There is nothing greater than when a student finally makes a leap in understanding—when things start to click within a student's mind, and they finally start to demonstrate skills that previously eluded them. This type of growth is one of the most rewarding experiences a teacher can have.
I had this type of experience during my very first year of teaching. Eliot came into my kindergarten classroom at the beginning of the year not knowing any letters—he couldn't even sing the alphabet song. I felt overwhelmed and frustrated because I believed my students would already know the alphabet by the time they got to my classroom. This was going to be a lot of work, but I was determined to conquer this unexpected challenge.
As I continued to follow the literacy curriculum, I was continually frustrated with how little progress Eliot was making. It made me question whether the way I was teaching was meeting his needs, so I decided to try a different approach. I began to incorporate more movement and songs into my literacy lessons. Soon, I noticed things were clicking for Eliot in a way they hadn't been before. Soon, he was able to identify not only his letters, but his sounds, too. This taught me the importance of being flexible and open to trying new approaches. Seeing Eliot grow so much in my classroom was among the most rewarding experiences I've had as a teacher.
2. Changing Mind-Sets
Some students come into our classrooms with a mindset of helplessness. These are the students who are constantly saying, "I can't do that." I had one such student in my class, and the experience taught me how feedback and positive praise can change the way a student sees the world.
Further reading: First Generation Graduate
Jordan was a student in my class during my second year of teaching. He'd often refuse to complete activities because he thought they were too hard, but I knew he was capable. After all, he was a bright, funny, and kind student—he just lacked confidence. I made it my mission to change his defeatist mindset over the course of the year. I encouraged Jordan, and praised him for his hard work and effort at every turn. But when he left my classroom at the end of the school year, I was left questioning if I had succeeded in my efforts. He had made amazing academic growth, but he still lacked confidence.
Three years later, Jordan came down to my room to visit me. He said, "Mr. Boender, you always told me to do my best, and I just want to say thank you. Because of you, I am looking at becoming a teacher when I grow up." It's moments like these that demonstrate the importance of a positive mindset. As an educator, I try to encourage my students to discover themselves and to pursue their dreams. It clearly worked with Jordan.
3. That One Student
We've all had that one student who knows exactly how to push our buttons. I've had many sleepless nights trying to figure out exactly why a child acts this way. I often question if I'm doing the right thing, or if I need to take a different approach to the situation.
Alexa was this kind of student. She had impulsive tendencies, and was always doing exactly the opposite of what I asked. I tried to keep a positive attitude, but I simply wasn't used to dealing with such oppositional behavior. I did my best to connect with Alexa, reminding her that I was here to help her be successful, and that all I could ask was that she do her best. At times, I thought I was getting through to her, but she'd prove me wrong every time. I began to feel defeated because it seemed like she was just ignoring my positive affirmations.
Further reading: 5 Tips to Stay in Touch with Students
But eventually, I started to notice a big change in Alexa. She began to follow directions and complete her work when asked. One day, Alexa came up to me with a big smile on her face. "Thank you, Mr. Boender," she said. When I asked why she was thanking me, she said, "Because you never gave up on me." Chills rushed through my body as she walked back to her seat and sat down to continue her work. In that moment, I realized the importance of never giving up on your students, even if they're the one who frustrates you most.
These success stories are just a few of the ones that have reaffirmed my love of teaching. At the end of the day, these stories show how much I care about my job and my students. I cherish these moments, and hopefully will experience many more in the years to come.