There are several things I'm trying to do in the first weeks of school. Things like:
- Memorize names quickly.
- Use Think-Pair-Share in a way that gets students used to speaking in front of the whole class.
- Begin teaching and modeling effective note-taking.
This is just me creating the cosmos my students and I will inhabit in my room all year.
But today, I wanted to share with you a first weeks of school task that I've not written about before: finding things to like about each student I teach.
Liking people is a skill
During the summer, one of my daughters gave me the rarest of gifts: a genuine and thoughtful compliment.
She said, “Dad, you're really good at liking people, all kinds of people.”
“Thank you so much, my love,” I said. “I guess my job as a teacher gives me lots of practice with this. I have to find ways to like all kinds of people. It's that or else be miserable.”
This uncovered for me a principle that guides much of how I interact with human beings, in or out of work: There are things to like about anyone, and finding these things is a profitable enterprise.
Another way to think of finding things to like in each student is as a spiritual discipline.
- By spiritual, I mean, “having to do with one's will, with one's executive center, one's spirit.”
- By discipline, I mean, “a practice undertaken intentionally for the sake of growth and learning.”
Finding something to like about each student, then, isn't so much a task for me as it is a way of working out and gaining strength. It is a way of developing my will, of building strength in my spirit. I'm trying to become the kind of person who can accomplish wonderful things as a teacher without needing to try super hard — just as a weightlifter lifts weights to become the kind of person who can lift heavier things without needing to try as hard as someone like, say, Dave Stuart would need to.
So far this year, these are the kinds of things I've found:
- One student wears a Super Mario hat, with confidence. That's interesting. I like interesting.
- One student reminds me of a character from The Godfather. To me, The Godfather is literature. I love that movie. And so, I like getting to know this kid who reminds me of that character.
- One student has my wife's name. I've never known a student with that name before.
- One student has an older brother I taught last year, and the two of them are very different. The difference is humorous to me.
- One student has kind eyes. I just like to be around him because of how his presence makes me feel.
- One student has a palpable, gentle confidence. It's not cocky or forced, just a sense of, “I know myself and I like who I am.” What a great quality.
As you can see, most of these are subjective. They're the ways students make me feel, the things I sense about them.
For this exercise, that's great. They don't need to be hard, objective facts. They don't need to be things you have in common with students. They don't need to be things you can prove.
But they do need to exist. You do need to find them.
Because once you find them, you can call these things to mind at will. When you're looking out at those individual faces, watching them begin a warm-up or discuss in groups, you can think about all the things you like about these human beings. You can notice what that feels like, to think on things like that, inside of your body.
And eventually, when cause for hard conversations inevitably comes round, when students inevitably begin to struggle, these fond moments will be there, ready to stoke your resolve not from a place of fear or anger, but from a place of liking and loving.
Seek those things to like in each student, colleague.