by Consuelo Kickbusch
No matter the kind of teacher one is, he or she should always be a caring one. Many times I ask my audiences, “Have you ever had a bad experience with a teacher?” Almost always, the majority of the participants raise their hands, some more quickly than others. Even though at least one bad experience with an educator is common in grade school, why does that one experience always seem to haunt us? Why do we carry that with us through multiple degrees? The answer is simple: we carry that feeling of “inadequacy” because we are still that impressionable student, waiting for the teacher to praise us with a “good job” sticker or an A+ with a smiley face.
When I give advice to teachers, I tell them to take a serious interest in their students’ lives and to form a relationship with each student in their classroom. In situations where a teacher has a different background from that of the students, it is crucial for that teacher to make an extra effort to learn about his or her students’ cultures, races, religions, and nationalities. By learning about underlying cultural differences, a teacher may be able to better understand his or her students. Expressing sincere interest in the students’ well-being is the first step to engaging them. In an article titled “Setting the Stage for Student Engagement,” Assistant Professor of Teacher Education Jan Richards states, “The most powerful influence you can have on your students is realized through your personality: your smile, your humor, your praise and caring.” Many times, gaining the trust of a student begins when an educator shares his or her story or journey. When the teacher is transparent and authentic, the student can see that his or her teacher was once in the same place as he or she, inspiring the student to begin to trust the teacher and be more willing to learn. In “Relationships Matter: Linking Teacher Support to Student Engagement and Achievement,” Klem and Connell state that “Students need to know that teachers are involved with them…and care about them.”
Henry Brooks Adams once said, “A teacher affects eternity; he can never tell where his influence stops.” Students are easily influenced by authority figures, and educators do not always realize that, in some cases, their influence can negatively affect a student. Teachers and administrators have to be careful of accidentally sending negative messages to students that can “brand” them. If an instance has occurred where one realizes that he or she could have unintentionally bruised a student’s psyche, he or she must have the courage to make amends in an effort to prevent that instance from affecting that student forever. This action can only improve the student-teacher relationship.
The idea that a teacher cannot get through to a student is unacceptable to me. Yes, inevitably there will be barriers between some students and their teachers; but a good teacher is one who never stops trying to connect with his or her students. In a world where instant gratification is almost expected, educators may not always be witness to a student’s change. Many times it happens when students are affected by a teacher, but the change is not immediate. One of the greatest rewards for a teacher is to reconnect with a student who has long since passed from their classroom, and learn that the student was positively influenced. That is what I call living a legacy.
Take Erin Gruwell, for example, best-selling author of the diary of essays, Freedom Writers, inspiration for the Hollywood movie, Freedom Writers, and president of the Freedom Writers Foundation. She is the epitome of a teacher who was able to connect with her students, regardless of the barriers of race, social class, culture, and life experience. She engaged her students by getting to know them first and gaining their trust. And, in spite of insurmountable odds, Gruwell was able to transform many young lives.
The Department of Education’s No Child Left Behind Act clearly states the importance of student engagement. Furthermore, according to Klem and Connell, it is widely accepted that student engagement is extremely important to the development of the student and his or her growth. Then why is it so difficult? Why, after decades of trying new, innovative techniques, is there not a distinct answer to engaging students? I asked myself these very questions a few years ago, before realizing I could create a program that could do just this: engage students in order to increase academic success. SLiCK, which stands for Student Leadership Inspired by Consuelo Kickbusch, is an innovative and interactive series of student leadership workshops geared toward nurturing the leadership skills within students in order to achieve personal growth, resulting in a desire to create positive change in their lives and community.
Anyone can become a student’s best friend if he or she takes the time to invest in that student. It is simple but, then, again, it is not that simple. Developing the next generation takes time, and the more time you invest, the better the results.
After I ask my audiences whether they have ever had a negative experience with a teacher, I always follow up with this question: “Have you ever had a positive experience with a teacher?” It never fails; all of the participants raise their hands. I ask this question as well because I know that even though we have all had that one “really bad teacher,” we have also had some pretty great ones. Teachers today must not only know that they can make a difference, but believe it. Whether they change one student’s attitude toward learning or introduce the next great teaching technique to the world, the point is that our teachers—in their own way—are responsible for America’s future. Engaging students is absolutely essential to teaching because the students in kindergarten today will be the next generation of CEOs, engineers, doctors, educators, fire fighters, policemen, scientists, biologists, entertainers, mathematicians, marketers, and whatever else the dreams of tomorrow may bring. But without teachers who truly care, they may never reach their true potential.
Connell, James P., and Adena M. Klem. “Relationships Matter: Linking Teacher Support to Student Engagement and Achievement.” Journal of School Health 74 .7 (Sept. 2004): 262-273 .
Richards, Jan “Setting the Stage for Student Engagement.” Kappa Delta Pi Record. Winter 2006. FindArticles.com. 05 Aug. 2008.
“SLiCK Media Kit.” Educational Achievement Services, Inc. 2008. 11 Aug. 2008 <http://www.easleadership.com/slick.htm>.
About the Author
Consuelo Kickbusch, retired Lieutenant Colonel from the U.S. Army, is the author of Journey to the Future: A Roadmap for Success She speaks to audiences nationwide on topics including education, leadership, and diversity. As a nationally renowned motivational speaker, Consuelo travels the country and sees firsthand the situation in many of America’s schools. She also speaks at national conferences of organizations such as National Principals Leadership Institute and National Association of Elementary School Principals. In addition to creating the SLiCK program, Consuelo and EAS, Inc., her human development company, created the Family Leadership Institute, a multifaceted curriculum focused on parental involvement for students’ academic success. For more information on Consuelo and any of her programs, please visit her Web site at http://www.EASLeadership.com.