Updated: Aug 12
Every school I’ve gone to has a policy where they want teachers in the halls, greeting students. Most teachers accept this as a basic safety precaution, ensuring there are no fights in the hall and students get to class on time. However, this time is so much more than that.
I’m that crazy teacher greeting not just my students, but every student I see. I ask everyone how they’re doing. I sing them personalized songs as I stomp my feet and clap my hands to some made up beat. I have even been known to wear a cape, play the guitar, or wear something silly on my head just to make the students smile. I’m not saying you need to do these things, but making connections inside and outside of the classroom is an important part of our job. We need to not only greet students because we are forced to by administration, but all of the time.
For instance, when walking down the hall, say hello, give the kids a smile. Or when we’re outside in the real world and we see a student, make the effort to say hi. Go to football games and after school activities; see your students in a new light. This reminds us that our kids have many sides to them, they are much more than the version we see of them in class.
I’ve heard teachers say that “just because a teacher is well-liked by the students, doesn’t mean they’re actually good teachers.” I see where these teachers are coming from. Being liked isn’t the priority when what’s best in certain situations is to give a student some consequences for their actions. This is true, but, if your students love and care about you just as much as you do for them, the experience you have in the classroom is going to be totally different than if they fight you on every move you make.
A strong relationship with your students means they will listen to you openly, they are more willing to learn from you, they believe you know what you’re talking about when it comes to your personal expertise.
The Major Benefits of Showing You Care
Students will open up to the teacher they believe genuinely cares about them. By saying hello every day, greeting them with a smile, asking how they’re doing, taking a genuine interest in their lives, students will open up and confide in you. The students I’ve worked with, for the most part, do not have a strong support system. They do not have adults they feel comfortable talking to. This is a very dangerous thing, especially in high school where hormones, mood swings, depression, and suicide rates are higher than they’ve ever been in our history. Students NEED to feel loved. Students need to feel you are there for them.
Showing a kind and understanding side of myself, a silly side, and a nerdy side, I’ve been able to develop meaningful relationships with my students. This does not have to mean being there in life or death situations- It means we are there every day, consistently. Being real with your students allows them to feel more comfortable in their own skin as well. I love getting to know who my students are deep down. They love being accepted for being their true selves.
The day I decided to make relationships a priority was the day I learned that a student in the class I was student teaching for had committed suicide.
This adorable freshman was the third in a string of suicides that year. I was so shaken and full of grief I considered not going into teaching because I wasn’t sure I could ever handle that kind of heart break again. Very quickly I realized I had to take the experience and turn it into something positive. From that day forward my priority would be caring about the well being of my students, making them laugh when it was appropriate, getting to know them, showing them every day, I cared.
Once this became number one in my life, I was able to help students get help with drug use, prevent a suicide, and just be there for students who were grieving losses of their own, by getting them to a counselor who could best help their specific needs. Knowing what things were going on in their lives allowed me to be a better teacher to them. I understood what was happening, why they needed a minute to breathe in the hall, why they were turning in their assignment a day late… I also knew when to celebrate successes and congratulate them on big events in their lives. I got to share in their highs and their lows.
My Plea to Educators
Go the extra mile. It pays off. This may not be your top educator strength, but it isn’t hard to make it a goal to say “hello” every day. That one word will make a big impact on your students, and near the end of the year at least one of them will mention it and thank you for taking the time to do that. I’ve seen it time and time again, a simple greeting makes a big difference. Even if you do nothing else different, that “hello”, will really tell your students, “I care about you”.