How much love?

The love it takes for a teacher to do their job every day can be powerful, exhausting, deeply personal, even confusing at times.

Over fourteen years, I have taught a relatively wide range of students. I have been in parent-teacher conferences where a parent was moved to tears because she felt that I saw the light in her child in a way that other teachers hadn’t. I have also been in conferences where a parent called me out for what was clearly a poor connection with their child. I have received beautiful thank you notes from parents telling me how much I meant to their child’s learning experience. I have also been yelled at by parents over the phone, asking why I wasn’t doing better for their child.

My experiences have run a gamut of highs and lows, and so probably have my student’s experiences. While I wanted to be the perfect teacher for every child in my classroom, I know that has not always been the case. I do know that I have loved every child I have taught and will always do so. I also know that some cases have been more successful than others, and I wish I could go back and change things, especially during my earliest years of teaching.

Recently, I heard a parent speak about their child’s experience in school; that their child finally felt loved after many years in school. It may me wonder about that child’s and that parent’s experience. What was it that made it feel like his teachers didn’t provide the love and support he needed?

Easy or hard; visible or obscure

From my experience, the love a teacher shows is often more visible for certain students than others. I would argue this is true of parenting and families as well. Some kids are rule followers, or easily converse with adults, or have unusually endearing quirks that give them magnetic personalities; they are easy for adults to appreciate.

Think of the little kid who has a cute lisp and begs for someone to read to them all the time. Or the middle schooler who has an uncanny ability to be kind and confident all at the same time.  You will probably see their teachers talk to them a little more often, ask them more questions about their hobbies, or even ask them more frequently to do classroom tasks. This isn’t always intentional, but, just like we have friends that are easier to ask for help in a time of need, teachers have students that are slightly more reliable. The teacher’s love of that student is more visible.

This means that the love a teacher shows other students is going to be less obvious. Think of the defiant kid who rolls his eyes all the time; the student who struggles to do math but also gets frustrated when you try to help them; or the kid who is just super quiet and hard to engage in conversation. Undoubtedly, these students have incredible qualities. Those qualities might just be more difficult to see or to bring out consistently. Every parent sends their child to school to learn, but they also have a deep desire for their child to truly be seen; for their child’s best qualities to be appreciated; for them to be loved.

My experience also tells me that these students actually receive a great deal of love, even thought it isn’t always seen. These are often the students teachers think about at night. We are constantly searching for new ways to connect to this student, new strategies to help them work through their challenges. As we all know, humans are quite complex, and finding that new connection or strategy often takes many attempts, sometimes even many years. But it doesn’t mean that child isn’t loved. It might just mean we can’t see it as easily.

I have fallen asleep and woken up many times (including weekends) thinking about one student in particular, and I’m pretty confident that his parents don’t like me at all. While I am sure that I could have done a few things better in supporting this child and his family, and that I have mostly moved past a desire to be liked by all parents, it can still be incredibly frustrating when a student or parent is unable to recognize the effort you are putting forth to help their child. As an educator, I am positive that I’m not the only one feeling this way.

Show me the love

So, listening to that parent speak about how their child finally felt loved, I felt disappointed. Disappointed that the student’s teachers were unable to help that parent see all the love they were giving. Disappointed that the parent was unaware of the work that helped this child reach a point where the teachers could love him visibly. While I obviously can’t speak for every teacher that child had, and I can’t speak completely to the parents’ or child’s experience, I know that child was loved. It may have been difficult to see, and maybe the teachers could have done a better job sharing or showing their love, but the love was always there.

I can say confidently that this student’s teachers went home thinking about him/her at night. They loved that student up as much as they could. They tried idea after idea to connect with that child, and help that child connect with them. And sometimes it worked. And sometimes it didn’t.

It also means that we need to keep working hard, probably harder, to make sure that every child feels loved, even when, especially when, it is most difficult to love them visibly. Our job as teachers isn’t to love the students that are easy, but to love every student in our classroom. And if we need help doing that, we need to seek it out. Sometimes our love isn’t enough. Sometimes we need the support of others, and we can’t be afraid to ask.

Love is not supposed to be easy, and we all know this. Whether it is a sibling, a parent, a friend, a partner, to love someone else takes work. How much love? I don’t know. As a teacher, sometimes we don’t even see the consequence of that love. Our students leave us at the end of our year or after they leave our school and hopefully we see or hear them down the road. Our love of each student is invaluable, nonetheless.

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