There is a lot going on right now. Protests, a pandemic, and so much uncertainty. In the midst of everything, we are also finishing up a school year. A school year that highlighted how necessary the internet is for everyone. And has been full of uncertainty. For students, parents, and teachers, this spring has been a challenge. I can’t imagine being a first-year teacher during the 2019-2020 school year. That got me thinking about my first year of teaching. I also thought about the circle of support that exists between administrators, teachers, and students, and wanted to share those thoughts.
To be a supportive teacher, we need to also feel supported. I have been very lucky in my school. During my first year as a teacher, I was nurtured and supported by my administration and my fellow teachers. The school environment was caring, supportive, and placed high importance on healthy student/teacher relationships. We were supported by our administration. Therefore, we were able to support our students. I knew that my administrators had my back, and the students knew it too.
Now, looking back at that first year, I wonder what kind of teacher I would have been without that environment. If my first year of teaching had been spent in a place where I did not feel as though my administrators had my back, where I did not feel supported. I do not feel like I would have been in a place to support my students. Not academically, that piece is a requirement of teaching, but I feel like some of the emotional support would have been lacking. Without getting support from administrators, teachers can feel isolated and alone, and this can mean that they have less to give.
This is not to suggest that teachers who do not feel supported by their administrators are not supporting their students. The point, rather, is that teachers who feel safe, supported, and nurtured are better able to provide those same things to their students. Being supported as a teacher can help with keeping teachers from burning out as quickly and help them keep good mental health. One principal said that “we have to give support to the point where teachers actually feel supported.” Teachers need to know that their concerns will be listened to, and that they are a valued part of the staff.
One of our chief roles as educators is to be supportive of our students. This does not just mean academically, although that is a big piece of it. Students are in our classrooms to learn history, science, math, English, or art. They come to us from all walks of life. Some have happy and healthy home lives. Others do not. Students can be hungry, angry, happy, joyful, innocent, jaded, excited, apathetic, and everything in between. Our job is not to judge, but to offer all of our students a safe place to learn. Regardless of what happens outside the walls of our school, inside our classroom, they are safe.
Our students know they are supported when teachers learn their names and favorite colors. We ask how their dog is doing, or their little sister. When teachers are able to engage and show students that they care, students respond in kind (mostly), and are able to open up more during class discussions.
At a time when students feel safe and supported, they are able to learn more effectively. They don’t need to worry that their teacher will laugh at them or put them down. This form of trust is critical, especially in subjects where teachers want students to wrestle with difficult topics. If students feel unsafe or don’t trust their teacher to have their best interests at heart, they might not engage. This doesn’t mean that students always like what the teacher is doing (no one likes taking a test), but they trust their teacher.
Supported Teachers Means Supported Students
While most teachers will continue to support students even with burn out or a lack of support, it won’t be quite as effective. Our students are smart. When we feel burnt out, or not supported in our school, no matter how we try to hide it, students can tell. They can begin to shy away from asking for those supports that they need from us because we don’t seem to be in a place where we can offer those things.
Administrators support their teachers, giving the teachers what they need to support their students. During this pandemic, administrators took on the daunting task of working with the public and with health care professionals to do what was best for their schools. They worked with their teachers to create meaningful learning opportunities for students. Teachers were able to nurture students, though from a distance, and remind them that it was going to be okay. We felt supported. Therefore, we were able to more effectively support our students. School culture is not made in isolation. It’s all of us, working together.
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