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If This Were Your Last Day . . .

Would you change your approach?

• “I’m glad I got her this year.”
• “Hey, this class is great.”
• “He’s really nice, isn’t he?”

These are the kinds of things we visualize students saying when they leave our class each day. The question is: “Do they?” Whether they do or not depends more upon us than it does on students. It’s teacher approach that determines how students feel about our class. And none can deny that we know exactly what kind of tone we intend to establish. Unfortunately, many teachers will choose to be rigid rather than open, stern rather than friendly, a boss rather than a partner. They may choose this course deliberately, sometimes because they feel they must. When they do, they should realize that such an approach may contradict everything they know regarding establishing the teacher-student relationships necessary for learning.

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The conceivable is attainable

If we want our students to feel good about being with us, we know what our stance should be, don’t we? We should be caring human beings who like students and reveal enthusiasm for teaching. We should be pleasant. We should dissolve fears, present opportunities, and be quick to praise and slow to criticize. We know, too, that we should be able to state the necessities of the classroom without having to throw our weight around. That’s the idea.

Knowing this, we should be careful not to move in the opposite direction. It’s too important to us and students. We should pick up on the techniques which set the stage for a teacher-student partnership in learning. One thing is certain: We don’t want to create a gap between us and students purposely. We shouldn’t feel as though we have failed if we go wide of the mark, however. We can only fail when we don’t know we are wide of the mark. We are halfway to the solution by knowing our actions are not giving us the tone we want or our students need. Aiming for the ideal should not scare us either. We should realize that what is conceivable is achievable. What can’t be conceived is never attainable.

We know what tone we want to establish on the first day. We want to set the stage for meaningful learning. We want listening, cooperation, and control. We want good teacher-student relationships. The real question is: “What are we doing to get them?” We need to think seriously about this question. It might change our first day approach.

A different approach

If this were the last day we would ever have with our students, would we change our plans? I think we would. Indeed, I would venture to say that priorities would get rearranged quickly. I’ll bet not an unkind word would be said. Too, we probably would forget about rules and regulations or what penalties could be expected for failing to meet a responsibility. If this were our very last day with kids, it wouldn’t be wasted trying to be tough or rigid either.

We would probably be warm and friendly. We would be trying to instill confidence and reduce fears. We might spend most of the time talking about opportunity and promoting independence so that our students could function when we were gone. We might try to help students develop a sense of ownership in their school too—so that they would become more interested and involved in their school.

If this were our last day, we would probably try to give each of our students hope and encouragement in the best way we could. We would be promoting their strengths and potentials. And we would probably listen intently—so that we could gear our final efforts to answering questions that were on their minds before we left them. We would surely recognize the day as a crucial one—and fit our plans accordingly. Maybe we ought to approach tomorrow in such a way. It might give us and students the best day we have ever had together.

The Master Teacher knows . . .

The Master Teacher knows that both our attitudes and plans should facilitate the development of mutual relationships needed for a teaching and learning union. We must enter our rooms with our self-esteem in good order and a basic concern for young people. If we have these things in hand, and we know ourselves well enough to know where our weak points reside, we should be ready to begin. These are the characteristics that keep us from treating students in less than a caring way on the first day.

The Master Teacher knows if we enter tomorrow as if it were our last day, we will begin under the banner of giving. This is the one ingredient we need. Even if we err, a spirit of giving will help us remedy the situation quickly. Out of giving, we will usually do what we believe is best for students rather than ourselves. Then we are on solid ground. We may falter, of course. Our judgments may even be questioned, but never our integrity or intentions.

The Master Teacher realizes that we are not on trial. We have no case to prove. Neither do our students. Experience has demonstrated to the Master Teacher that students usually arrive to their classes giving their teachers all the benefits of the doubt. They want their teacher to do well because they want to do well too. The Master Teacher knows that when we worry less about control and more about a genuine desire to connect, all else falls into place.

Thought for the Week

The perfect plan does not exist. It’s the adjustments you make that will make the difference.

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