“Do I have to follow the rules from Earth if I move to Saturn?” This was an actual question posed to me by a student as I walked around checking on math problems during our Do Now at Freshman Academy this past week. This was only week two of working and knowing these lovely humans, and seeing how their beautiful minds work never ceases to amaze me.
Every time I welcome a new group of students into my classroom, even going into my eighth year of teaching, I still get nervous. I realize a big part of that isn’t nerves about my classroom rules, procedures, management or organization. It is the relationship building. As a special education teacher that is the magical piece. It is the one thing that can get a student who won’t listen to anyone else to listen to you. It is the piece that can allow you to talk to students about what is going on in other classes, or what is holding them back from performing up to their potential. It gives you permission to call them out on their antics when they aren’t doing what they need to do. It is also what so many of the students labeled as “tough” or special education are in such desperate need of, relationships with trusted adults.
Relationship building for teachers can be seen as scary or difficult when working with student’s who are known to be “difficult’ or who trust few people, but in actuality it is rather easy. I didn’t realize it until more recently that this was a strength of mine as a teacher. Often, when I would be asked about my classroom management approach, I honestly wouldn’t have an answer. I honestly had no idea why these children actually listened to me, I knew it wasn’t my terrible corny jokes.
To demonstrate how simple the art of relationship building can be I go back to the question I was asked this week. “Do I have to follow the rules from Earth on Saturn?” I could have scolded the student for being way off task or asking a question irrelevant to anything that was going on in class. However, I have learned this, when students ask ridiculous questions such as this one, sometimes it is a way to reach out, a way to try to attempt to communicate. Listening is the opening to their world, we can’t help unless we zoom in to where they are. So what was my response, obviously I engaged in the conversation and asked if he was talking about school rules or laws. He said laws, my response were my classroom expectations still applied, but all other rules were out the window because it was Saturn and no one else lived there. The student laughed, obviously because I am hilarious…. and then went back to his work. In that one minute conversation I got that student. What do I mean by “got” I mean this, when I now talk, redirect or ask that student to do anything he is down to do it. I don’t understand the science behind this, I just know that it works time and time again.
Don’t let relationship building with your students be scary! Just talk with them answer their questions, joke with them;you will be amazed at the amazing human beings they can be. Students often are not subtle or slick in their efforts to make connections, some are easier to see then others; the invitations are always there, don’t miss yours!