One of the most important lessons that I learned a a high school math teacher was that kids could care less about most of the content that I taught if they did not feel a connection to me. The “relatable” content was easy because you could tie that to their real world experiences or conduct simple experiments and they were excited. However, when it came down to learning something that was a bit more abstract, I would lose them without their trust that I actually cared. Relationships mattered.
The student:teacher relationship is such an important one. You must be approachable and honest in your actions. I can only describe it as being someone that kids would want to have casual conversations with while still maintaining the balance between the roles of students and teachers. I knew of a few teachers who, in my opinion, went way too far into the “friend zone” as the kids knew more about that teacher’s personal life than they should’ve. To this day, I still hurl at the thought of what those kids knew as it was that bad…and gross.
I’ve taught kids from all walks of life and regardless of who they were, they wanted to know that I knew THEM individually. I had a kid who was known for his local skateboard antics as he was banned from skating in most areas of town. Writing a math problem that incorporated skateboarding wasn’t enough to reach him. Teachers tried that often and he was bored with it. I listened to him talk and in his conversations he would make small references to Fall Out Boy (a band). I knew this because I too listened to Fall Out Boy so I made a reference back. His eyes lit up as if he had seen a ghost and he squealed (Yes….squealed)…
“Mrs. D. You KNOW Fall Out Boy!!!”
Everyday we would spend about 1-2 minutes on various rock bands and rap. Other students became involved. As kids entered the room, I started playing music. In that small action, I not only had him but also the quiet “rockers” in the back and with that…I had them all year. We could talk about math in the sense of what they could relate to but we could also somehow make sense of learning concepts that they would probably never use again.
That relationship was easy but not all of them work out that way. Quite a few require more work beyond conversations. Regardless, it is in the relationships that we build with kids that speak to how far we get with them.
It’s not about the content alone. You’ve got to first connect with the kid.