I decided to begin my research with the best, personal sources I know. I have stayed in contact with three teachers that made a large impact on my life. When I think about their classrooms, I recall moments of challenge and growth, sprinkled in with moments of care and feelings of safety. I contacted each of these teachers and asked them simply – “How do you show students that you care?”
The first to respond was my third-grade teacher, Mrs. Blackmon. My memories of her are fonder than any other teacher. I think this is due to two main factors: 1) She was understanding and helpful during a very tumultuous time in my family’s personal life – my newborn brother nearly died after birth and we had to spend nearly a month with him at one of the top children’s hospitals in Orlando, FL. During that time, she insisted I stay in Florida with my family, mailing me packets of work with detailed instructions and permission to contact her with questions at any time so that I would not get behind my classmates. In addition to the work she would include notes from my classmates and pictures of what was going on in class so that I didn’t feel estranged from the group. 2) Mrs. Blackmon was also the first teacher to tell me I had a gift for writing and she encouraged it fervently. That year I wrote many pieces about my brother’s adoption, illness, and near death. Writing about it helped me process everything that had happened and all the changes I was experiencing in my life. She would read each piece thoroughly, exclaim at its depth and word choice, etc. Then she would give me tips to improve it. She even submitted some of my work to be published. Mrs. Blackmon’s response to my question was fitting of all the memories I have of her. She said, “I show kids I care by paying close attention to all parts of their lives and understanding that my classroom only plays a part of it. I try to use the part my classroom plays to make them feel seen, heard, loved, encouraged, and supported. I try and find something unique and talented about each student. I tell them about this trait and encourage them to develop it.”
The second teacher to respond was my 6th grade, gifted language arts teacher – Mrs. Taylor. She was a spunky woman, always challenging us to do things we thought we couldn’t. Of course, we tried anyway. Her bright eyed, smiley face, unshakable confidence in us made it our worst nightmare to disappoint her. I made a ton of “mistakes” in Mrs. Taylor’s classroom, but I was never afraid of them or embarrassed to seek correction and guidance. I felt safe in her classroom. Her response was fitting of my memories as well: “Students see that you care when you are excited and happy to be with them. You have to show them that even the most mundane of days … Like a random Monday in February is still a great blessing – that you get to be here with the greatest group of kids a teacher could hope to work with. Don’t get me wrong, this is not an act. I really do feel this way. I am always amazed at the things my kids can do. I am also very careful with my words AND body language when offering critiques to my students. It is critical to encourage students in a way that encourages growth, instead of projecting failure onto what a student has done.”
The last teacher to respond was my eighth grade science teacher, Mrs. Madden. I loved Mrs. Madden because she was realistic about our lives and responsibilities outside her class. She would tell us “Let’s work hard in here so you can go do everything else expected of you out there.” It seemed we never wasted a minute in her class and I remember feeling really grateful for her dedication to make the most of our time. Mrs. Madden was really into sports and clubs and was always asking us about how our other activities were going. Although she knew very little the equestrian world I was such a part of, she always remembered to ask how my competitions went. One day she requested that I bring her a recording of my jumping rounds and then spent 15 minutes asking me questions about how it was being judged or what was considered good, bad, etc. She was understanding when my competitions required me to travel and never implied that my absences shouldn’t be excused because it wasn’t a “school sport” like other teachers did. Again, her response reflects my memories in her classroom: “Kids have a life outside of school and outside of just your class. Homework is fine, projects can be good but all in moderation. Give these kids your best for the hour you have them then leave time for them to live and grow in other aspects of their lives. I have found that respecting students’ time goes a long way in showing them that you care. I am also really into their sports and other activities. I try to go to all the sporting events, dance recitals, art shows, and concerts that I can. Students respond very well when you show interest in the things that make them unique.”
From these personal reflections and responses I have created a short list of ways that teachers can show care to their students:
- Remaining aware of students’ family situations – illnesses, divorce, etc.
- Pointing out student strengths and then encouraging growth in that area
- Showing enthusiasm to work with students
- Being very careful with the way you give critiques
- Respecting student time outside of your class
- Showing an interest in students’ extra-curricular activities
From here, I plan to start looking into research articles and other literature to further explore the topic of teacher care.