Last weekend I was at a local retailer and I heard someone say in a faint voice, "Ms. Kennedy". I looked around and I heard the unsure voice repeat my name again. As educators we know that hearing our name in "teacher form" during our personal time causes a bit of stress as we start to feel as though our cover as a real human being as just been blown and now we need to take on a new professional personality during our "off" hours. As my mind started to wonder who might be calling my name I turned around and saw a beautiful young lady who had been in my fifth grade classroom eight years ago, Zakiya. I couldn't remember her name for the life of me and before anything uncomforable blurted out of my mouth, I was extremely elated to hear her say, "It's me Zakiya."
Zakiya and I chit chatted about the classes she was taking in high school, her future plans and some of the classmates she had the same year she was in my fifth grade classroom. For some reason I had no problem remembering the names of a few of her classmates, but as far as Zakiya's name, I had no recollection as all. Zakiya's parents were born in Kenya and had settled into the New Orleans area when they first moved to the United States and then relocated to the Austin area in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina for a fresh start. Zakiya was an extremely sweet girl who had a difficult time making friends because she was so reserved. I remembered her as a good student who was always eager to please and rarely did anything wrong. Her parents were amazingly strong individuals and it was apparent that she had inherited their strength.
There have been a multitude of times through the years that I've been out and about and experienced the same thing with students from previous years; however, remembering almost three decades of names has always been a challenge. Some names I had no problem remembering and many I did. If the student was more needy and required day to day redirection, remembering their name over the years seemed quite easy; if the student was more charismatic and full of personality remembering their name didn't seem to be a problem. However, the quieter students who went about their day to day business and required little intervention apparently didn't place a personal stamp in my memory. As I thought about why I remember some names and not others; it saddened me to think that there are so many students out there that I taught who followed the rules; did everything they were supposed to do and years down the road I could only remember the names of their counterparts. I began to think about all of the relationships that I might have missed out on. I wondered if teachers would remember my child's name from year's past.
In classrooms today many students go unnoticed for doing the right thing, making the right choices, and doing what is socially correct. Teachers are told to develop relationships with all their students; but especially with those students who continue to make the wrong choices in order to turn those behaviors around. How difficult it must be to be a student in today's world in over-sized classrooms full classmates who are on an endless mission to have the attention of others?
While working next door to several different classroom teachers through the years it was quite apparent which students were receiving the most attention without stepping foot in their classroom. I've read several articles lately where teachers report that they spend almost 25% of their day redirecting students who choose inappropriate behaviors.
There will be instances in anyone's career in education in which something that was said by a coworker, administrator or student resonates for years on end. Many years ago at a parent meeting I had a mother say this to me in regards to her daughter, "I know that she is not going to be the best that you will have this year, but she is the best part of me, please treat her as if she is your best even if you don't think she is." Words like that are not easily forgotten.
Years ago, I set one standard for myself as an educator: treat every student as I'd like my child to be treated and do everything in my classroom just as I'd like to see things done in my child's classroom. As a single mother in Dallas I worked long hours and had little time to be active in my son's school, I went on blind faith that his teachers would treat him with the respect and kindness that he deserved and they would see the beautiful unique qualities that I knew he possessed.
Teachers need to remember that parents are trusting them to treat their child with the same daily compassion, attentiveness and diligence as they do all of the students in their classroom. In an ideal world we wouldn't remember only those that spoke loudly in our classrooms; but also those who chose to "speak softly and carry big sticks".
Educators today should ask themselves the following questions:
- Do I know at least one thing that is special and noteworthy about all of my students?
- Have I reached out to all of my students today?
- Can I remember something unique or special that every student in my classroom did today?
- Has my management of inappropriate behaviors prevented me from allowing those students with good behaviors to shine?
- Would I want my child to be a student in my classroom?