I begin the year as every teacher does: In front of new students who do not know me and are cautious about the idea of ever getting to know me. Even before the dust of our first acquaintance has settled, I make sure to call each of them by name and say the most important thing they may hear all day, “I love you.”
The first time they hear this they may awkwardly rush out of the classroom, say some silly retort, or even offer up an argument of disbelief. However, with surprising expediency they grow comfortable and eager to hear validation that they have worth and they are loved.
Trust is a concept often overlooked or taken for granted by adults. While some students blindly accept that their teachers are a person deemed safe, others see them as nothing more than an empty, unpredictable promise of stability.
Beneath the surface of many students is a world where adults do not equate to unconditional love and security. For some their world is filled with adults who happen to be the source of pain and fear. So they will ask themselves as they scan us over, ”What makes you any different?” “Why would you love or like a kid like me?”
Our students are running around with mirrors looking for the versions of themselves THEY see. They tirelessly continue to manipulate those around them for the validation that they are nothing more than their own self-image. In order to accomplish this, students push limits and attempt to injure our egos. Survival means they must determine how quickly we will run away or give up on them. Academics are nothing more than a distraction when you are focused on protecting yourself from rejection, disappointment, and failure.
We have an opportunity as educators and mentors to show our students that not all adults (or relationships for that matter) are the same. It is possible that people can mean what they say and love even after mistakes have been made. Day by day and moment by moment I have to ensure that I am speaking and acting in a manner that communicates trust. I have to build a foundation of security for all other things to flourish.
Here are the promises I have made to my students:
- I say what I mean.
- I respect your space, belongings, and feelings.
- I will give you grace and love you through it.
- I will ask questions centered on who and how you are (not what I want from you).
- I will say I am sorry when I am wrong.
- I will be present in our interactions.
Trust takes faith that another will accept you for who you are and not abandon or reject you if they feel you are not good enough. Think about what you need as an adult to establish trust in new relationships. For most of us trust is a tightrope that we walk as we nervously believe our next step will prevent us from falling to the depths below.
Now think about the students who sit in the chairs in your classroom. What do they need to trust? They all may need something different, but what do they require to believe with certainty that you are there for them regardless of their ability? These questions are worth answering because without trust we cannot move forward on building upwards. Without trust we need to assert power or threaten loss, leaving us to focus on keeping score instead of learning.
I believe love is a basic need. Without self-love, few can navigate this world without seeking hurt, pain, or a source of numbness. Teachers have the blessing to show that when love is constant, trust is built; when trust is built students can learn. For those of us still grinding away in the field of education, we know that learning is more than standards and state assessments. It is the lesson of love that so often gets overlooked, but is the most crucial for us all.