I went into this school day thinking that I needed to come down hard on my juniors, that I needed to demonstrate that I am serious about getting things done and will do what it takes to make that happen. Turns out that today wasn’t the day for it.
I decided today that I would begin my junior classes with some introductory writing intended to prime the pump (so to speak) for discussion. In my earlier section, one of my students interrupted me to ask a question…
…but before I go there, let me diverge for a second to a previous conversation from last week. I have fairly strong opinions about the way that some people use words like “retarded” and “gay” to mean “stupid, ridiculous, absurd, nonsensical, unenjoyable” (e.g. “This story was retarded”). Like clockwork, the parenthetical statement was uttered by students in both sections after having read a creation myth, and so I gave a little mini-lecture about how using those words like that is somewhat offensive; I’m somewhat sensitive to “retarded” because my oldest son has autism; no, I’m not offended, but don’t use those words like that in here because you ought to be aware of how you use language. A good lesson, I thought, and once the word “autism” came out of my mouth, everyone was serious.
So (back to the present class) when the class was doing the writing, one student said, “Mr. B? You said your oldest son has autism, right?”
I answered affirmatively, and the student responded, “How did you find out he has it?”
From there, I gave some very brief details – we knew he wasn’t meeting his developmental milestones, he didn’t start talking at all, he showed some of the stereotypical signs of autism, I had researched ASD for a while in college and otherwise – and some of the students responded with their own experiences or asked more questions. I didn’t let it continue for too long before moving back into the discussion I had intended on having, but it was a very positive experience, in my opinion.
After last semester, I am a strong believer that students respond well to teachers when they are not simply seen as teachers but instead as real, 3-dimensional people: not simply defined by the profession, by grade books and worksheets, but bigger than that, the product of myriad interests, beliefs, values, and ideas. They need to see us as flesh and blood, not as a name on a piece of paper. They need to fight the notion that teachers cease to exist once students leave the school building.
I think this happened for me today, and I liked it. It was a connection, and that’s part of what I’m trying to do.
Now I need to think about the converse: acknowledging with students that I understand that they have lives and interests outside of school. I’m already thinking about making it to the next “home”* football game. Maybe that will help bridge some of the gaps that still exist between me and some of my students. Anything that makes the classroom easier and shows students that I care about them is a step in the right direction.
*I use quotes because our school doesn’t actually have a football team; we have students who play on a joint team with another school. But still.