It was a chance for parents to get to know their child’s middle school teachers. We would spend ten minutes in each classroom listening to the teacher share his or her educational background, classroom procedures, and expectations. I wasn’t expecting to hear anything earth shattering that night, but I did. As soon as Mr. B began talking, I sensed I was in a very special place and there would be an important takeaway. My hope is that my takeaway becomes yours too.
As parents settled into their seats, Mr. B immediately noted the stack of index cards in the middle of the desks. He invited us to take one and write down our child’s passions. “Connecting with each student is very important to me,” the science teacher explained. “Tapping into what makes them excited … what makes them come to life … is my goal,” he explained.
But here is where I went from simply listening to actually feeling his words:
“Nothing pains me more than walking down a school hallway and seeing a desolate look on a child’s face, like they are in prison. It pains me because that was me,” he said. “School felt like prison. I dreaded each and every day. Creating a classroom where kids are excited, comfortable, and known can make all the difference.”
And here is when two warm tears slid down my cheeks:
“Parents, I never want students in my class to stress if they need an extra day to prepare for a test or complete an assignment. There is a fine line between pushing our kids and understanding they have lots of things going on. I don’t want them to stress about my class,” he said reassuringly. “Have them talk to me. We’ll work it out.”
I felt a collective sigh of relief among those sitting around me. We’d never heard such a thing—perhaps in our whole lives. Just imagine how the students felt when they heard this beautiful offer of compassion and understanding. I thought to myself getting teary again.
Just then, the intercom sounded. The ten-minute session was up; it was time to go to the next class.
I didn’t want to leave.
I wanted to hear more pressure-relieving words of wisdom from this kind and generous educator.
“Oh, and if you and your child see me in the community, please walk up and say hi!” he said loudly over the pushing in of chairs and departure commotion. “I promise you won’t be bothering me. I never stop being a teacher. I am all in.”
He’s all in.
I looked down at my index card. I’d filled up both sides, my handwriting getting smaller and smaller towards the end. I had so much to say.
He’d asked about my girl—my smart, funny, conscientious, bright, beautiful girl. But because she is quiet and shy in school settings, people often never know who she really is.
But he asked. And more importantly, he wanted to know.
He’s all in.
And my heart nearly burst with gratitude because of it.
I stood in line behind all the other parents who wanted to shake the hand of the man who was creating an optimal learning environment for their child to thrive. Many of us hadn’t met anyone like him before. As expected, the gentle teacher looked into each person’s eyes and appeared grateful for the opportunity to meet them.
When I got home, my daughter asked which teacher did I think was her favorite.
“Mr. B,” I said without hesitation.
She smiled. “He is so kind and interesting, Mom. I am so glad I got him for a teacher.”
I sat down on the kitchen stool, anxious to tell her how he moved me to tears (minus the tears part because she would have been mortified by that detail.) “Mr. B asked us to fill out an index card detailing what you’re passionate about,” I told her. “He wants to get to know each one of his 150 students. Isn’t that remarkable?”
“Wow! What did you write?” she asked curiously.
“I took a picture so you could see,” I said handing her my phone.
“Mom! Did you really fill up both sides?” she exclaimed, sounding slightly embarrassed and slightly delighted.
But her question didn’t require an answer. She was already reading my comments. A look of pure joy and peace settled on her face. Yes, she was known … and she wanted to be known. But don’t we all? Yet, oftentimes, we’re not. But Mr. B gave me hope. Which brings me to the takeaway I promised you:
Your child may not have a teacher like Mr. B and possibly never will. But there is something to be learned from this man that we can all use and offer today:
Connection – let us remember it is the key to understanding, acceptance, and assurance. It offers refuge from the pressures and critics of the world. Connection provides a secure foundation for human spirits to grow and flourish.
Pressure – let us be flexible with our demands and expectations. Sometimes we lose sight of the fact that a task or goal doesn’t have to be completed on our timeline or in a specific way. The healing and hopeful words, “don’t stress,” are a gift we can give to alleviate pressure and focus on what truly matters.
Availability – let us be one who is approachable – no matter how tired we are, no matter how busy we are, no matter how bad of a day we just had. If our children approach us, let love never be ‘off the clock.’ Offer a loving hello and an “I’m so glad to see you.” We might then become the one they seek out in times of despair and challenge.
Knowledge – let us never stop wanting to know what makes our loved ones excited, curious, passionate, and alive. Start a collection of index cards documenting what you are learning about your beloveds. Share it with them. Let them see how wonderful you think they are. And if you don’t know their passions, make it your mission to find out.
Today holds the opportunity to notice desolate faces as they walk through the hallways of our lives. As Mr. B reminds us, we hold a precious key—one that opens a passageway to potential with plenty of room to breathe.
I’m all in.
How about you?
Let’s fill the world with index cards, writing love on every line of our beloveds’ hopeful hearts.
UPDATE: AUGUST 2019: Over the past two years, I set out to talk to as many young people as I could to find out what they most needed the adults in their lives to know about the daily stressors they faced and how we can best support them through these difficult times and territories. These findings became part of my fourth book which is now available for pre-order. I am excited for the opportunity to share what I’ve discovered in a live presentation at Mt. Pisgah High School, 9875 Nesbit Ferry Road, Johns Creek, Georgia this Sunday, August 25th at 2pm.The strategies and inspiration offered in this presentation will empower parents and educators to fully understand what today’s young people are up against and help them adapt to the new realities by practicing acceptance, pursuing peace, and exploring purpose so they can model it for the young people in their lives.
Please join me for this special event which will include a performance by my daughter Avery who recently released her first single on iTunes called JUST BE. All proceeds from this event benefit All About Cats Rescue & Adoption, an organization that is near and dear to our family. Grab your tickets here; seating for this event is limited.
If you would like a visual reminder for your home or classroom that inspires the building up of the young people in your life, the Presence Pledge print has been drastically discounted for back-to-school. See the Hands Free Shop for wearable reminders to choose connection and love over pressure, distraction, and criticism.
Rachel, I was delighted to read this, but especially because we just got a similar assignment from our newly seventh grade daughter’s team of teachers. They want us to write an essay which they titled “1 million words or less”. In other words, take as much space and time as you need to tell us all about your child, because we want to get to know them. I’m so excited to do this for my daughter. Yay, teachers!
Rachel Stafford says
Oh how I love this, Laura! When a teacher says he or she wants to know your child, it brings such peace and optimism to a parent’s heart. Thank YOU for taking the time to share this wonderful assignment you have been given!
We just had back to school night last night (our daughter just started 6th grade) and I was so very impressed with EVERY teacher she has. They love what they do and understand the kids and that sometimes life happens and gets in the way of school. 🙂 We had an assignment (the parents) asking about our daughter from the math teacher where we were asked to describe her and her strengths. I didn’t expect this at the middle school level, but loved it!
Rachel Stafford says
This is so promising, Jennifer. Thanks for taking time to shine a light on these wonderful educators. I am so grateful for them.
My son arrived home from his first day of Grade 4 and had a paper bag and a note – its sort of homework he said with a smile! It called Bag O’ Needs and the kids are asked to put in items that relate to his/her likes and needs . . . having read this article, I think we will take a little extra time to figure out what should go into the bag. Because I want to know too, not just his teacher!
Rachel Stafford says
This is such a special assignment! I am intrigued by it. I don’t think anyone is too old to create a bag of needs and share it with a loved one. Just imagine the connection and understanding that might occur! Thank you for sharing. It’s wonderful!
Elizabeth J says
Like Laura above, last year my daughter’s middle school teachers gave parents the one million words or less essay assignment about our kids. I wrote a lot. This year, there was something similar, just not phrased that way. The request came from one teacher, but the write-up is shared with all the teachers on each child’s team. Another cool my daughter said about her social studies teacher is that the first week of school, he didn’t do anything about social studies –he spent the week doing a number of exercises designed to help him get to know the kids and for the kids to get to know each other– team building things like making structures from spaghetti and mini-marshmallows, making free-standing creatures from pipe cleaners, writing and sharing poems about themselves. He said that he believes kids will learn better and more effectively if they’ve had time to connect first.
Rachel Stafford says
Oh Elizabeth, this is brilliant! I am thinking that team-building exercise could make a great start to MANY new groups, experiences, and situations. I love this so much. Thank you for sharing!!!
Nix Fell says
Flip Rachel, now you’ve got me crying! Mr B and you have hit the nail on the head – what we all want, both for our children and ourselves is to be understood, known and then accepted and celebrated. I totally believe that’s the intimate way God knows and delights in us (I know not everyone shares my beliefs) as no one knows an art-piece like the artist right? It’s a lifetimes work to keep feeding into our kids like that but the most important one – thank you (again) for sharing!
Rachel, I love all your posts, but this one is my favorite. My daughter is quiet in school, so her “index card” isn’t obvious to anyone who doesn’t take the time to uncover it. Each year, I pray she has a teacher who will do just that, but she’s still very young and so far it hasn’t happened. Reading this gives me hope that there is a Mr. B out there for her too, and in the meantime I’ll give her as many opportunities to connect as possible. Thank you for these lovely words, as always.
Another lovely post that made me cry. You are such a gift from God! For years now I have been soaking up your words and they always challenge me, reassure me, and give me hope! Thank you!
I am a mom, wife, and teacher. Your words are true! Your message today is soo important in various aspects of our lives; school, community, business and family. We need more people who are “ALL IN!”
Mr. B simply ROCKS!!! If all kiddos were so blessed to have the gift of a teacher with such heart and passion for kids, what a brighter world it would be.
Thanks for sharing Rachel! Bless you!
Kerry Foreman says
This is so timely for me!! Have a meeting worth Maili’s teacher this morning unfortunately for the opposite reasons….she doesn’t “see” the kids in her class and it is creating a harsh inner voice for my daughter. Thanks!!
Oh, this is so beautiful! Mr. B is a diamond in the rough. I was a shy child like Natalie and I wish I had had teachers that did things like this. I’m sharing this with my teacher friends <3
Nichole P says
This brought tears to my eyes!! All anyone wants is to be known and understood. What a very special teacher Mr. B is! I wish I had a teacher like him when I was younger. I am so looking forward to seeing you speak next week. Thanks for sharing such an important lesson!
Crystal Thomason says
This post is absolutely amazing! It is so true!! We all want to feel important and to feel connected to people that care. Is it okay if I share your article in our newsletter (post the first part of your article and link to your article for them to finish the rest) for foster and adoptive parents?
Rachel Stafford says
Yes, please do. I would be honored. Thank you for the important message and resource you provide very special families.
Wow! What an amazing person Mr. B is. Can you let him know that your readers think he is truly a special teacher. How wonderful!
Rachel Stafford says
Yes. I absolutely will! Thank you for mentioning it!
I immediately emailed this post to my daughter’s middle school principal!
Thank you for putting my thoughts into words so easily.
I am so glad your daughter gets this great teacher! My younger child started school this week, just before he turns 5. I was anxious about my baby going into this new environment, about his *being known* by a new-to-him teacher in a new-to-her school. I haven’t had time to get to know her well yet, but I had the privilege of welcoming her into our home for 20 minutes one afternoon. While her assistant played with my son, she asked me about things she had read (and memorised) in his pre-school notes and things she had observed over his first three mornings. She wanted to know his interests, his worries, how best to help him succeed, which areas will be challenging and what he will find easy. She wanted to *know him*. When I picked my son up this lunch time I slipped an envelope into her hand, a thank you card inside detailing all the things I wanted to commend and encourage about her teaching this week. Thank you Rachel for encouraging your readers that we should share such kind words and let people know when they are shining.
Rachel Stafford says
I love this so much, Joy. Thank YOU for being a radiant light.
Gloria Barsuhn says
My child was blessed to have Mr. B last year and then choose Mr. B to be someone he could talk with if something was bothering him. Lucky for for your daughter! It will be a good year!!!
Rachel Stafford says
Oh Gloria, this made me smile so big. I knew it wouldn’t be long before someone would know exactly who I was talking about. He’s a special one alright. So happy to know the impact he made in your son’s life. Big hugs to you, friend.
Please as someone who works in schools contact his administrators and tell them how wonderful the teacher is and how much you enjoyed meeting him. We rarely hear the good things but always hear the complaints
Rachel Stafford says
Great reminder, Donna! Thank you so much. I taught special education for 10 years and I remember the positive things parents reported to my administrators like it was yesterday.
Alan F says
Great to read about this experience. I am curious to know if this is a public school. My suspicion and hope is that it is. I also hope that public school as a standard never gets devalued, because they ensure access and a guaranteed right to a decent education, regardless of any extraneous factors. This becomes all the more possible when funding priorities focus on ensuring that teachers are valued, remunerated for their prepared background, and for being able to make a living despite the often abbreviated “work year” that teachers experience.
It concerns me deeply that candidate Donald Trump thinks that school choice is a good idea, because too much is at risk for students when it comes to the possibility of a) students being “segregated” by the virtue of turning the public education process over to competition and privatization movements, and b) students being put into “bubbles” of other-ism – where those who want so-called school choice do so because they think that public education is somehow inferior or risks putting their child in inclusive environments versus privileged ones (such as Christian schools that often have moral codes that deny scientific realities of gender identity, sexual orientation and climate science, to name the most important ones).
My personal experience with public schools was one of tremendous connectedness, despite moving around a good bit due to family situations. I enjoyed the learning process tremendously, and was an atypical student, because I found it easy to connect with teachers due to my hunger for knowledge. It was sometimes frustrating to see that struggle occur between teachers and students when the teacher opted for an authoritarian approach, as opposed to one of getting to know the students and focusing on strengths and optimizing those. Thanks again for sharing this very inspiring story of a great teacher. Hopefully, more teachers will find their niche and comfort zone so that they can make out the time for strategizing the prioritization that student identities need.
I love this post! I so hope my son has a teacher like this in public school one day.
(Apologies for the length!)
I commented a few years back saying I was in engineering grad school and miserable, and all I wanted to do was teach but was scared (of being judged for leaving engineering, of “failing,” of doing something less prestigious, of wasting my degree, on and on…). A few of your sweet readers responded with encouraging words and one woman reached out to me after reading my comment and shared a similar experience, and we even met up (she happened to move to my city!).
I’m so happy to report that I just started my second year teaching high school (math & physics) and could not be any happier! This post made me cry big tears of joy because it is EXACTLY how I feel about my wonderful, precious, unique students – and why I absolutely adore teaching them. I just can’t bring myself to be that harsh, unforgiving, no-smiles teacher. I always think, “What would *I* want as a student?” And that’s to be known, to be celebrated, to be wanted. To have a teacher who was excited that I was in the room. Who offered me a warm hello and a cheerful goodbye. Who understood that life is busy and commitments can pile up and sometimes you just need a bit of time, patience, and grace to catch up. Who was thrilled every day to be in the classroom. Who asked for my opinion. Who made it safe to make mistakes, give wrong answers, and ask as many questions as I needed to in order to feel confident. Who was available whenever I needed them – before school, after school, on email – and patiently helped me for as long as it took until the information clicked.
I don’t do things like “normal” teachers. I don’t have a lot of rules, or fancy signals, or rehearsed procedures for the students. Maybe I will someday when I’m a veteran teacher, but for now, I can barely keep my head above water (planning/grading/paperwork) and thus don’t have time to stress over those details. So my goal is simple: teach the way I would want to be taught – with love for the students and a visible passion for the subject!
It’s been really special being a second year teacher because I now have a year of “old” students who come back to say hello, grinning widely and throwing their arms around me, telling me how much they missed me. I don’t think they could ever fully understand what words like that mean to a teacher. They are a blessing, a life rope, a reason to keep going through all the insane piles of work. In return, I do my best to let the students know how much THEY mean to ME – and how I hope they keep coming back as much as they like, for any reason at all. It makes my day every time.
I’m sorry this is so long! It’s just all been on my mind, and with the first week coming to a close, I’m so grateful for the opportunity to do – and be – something I love. And to see your words celebrating a teacher, well, thank you. Thanks for appreciating teachers. Thanks for sharing how much it means to parents when a teacher loves and wants to understand your kid. And thanks to your kind readers for their encouragement those few years ago. Life is so, so good.
Jenny Johnston says
Here is your index card:
I have known Rachel for about 2 years. During that time she has been a counselor, therapist, colleague and friend to me. She has also been an AMAZING mother to her children. She goes above and beyond her duties in all of these areas, at all times. She is that friend who knows you inside and out, even when she has never met you. Rachel, is a symbol of love and kindness. If I need to feel understood and supported, all I need to do is go to her website and pick any post at random. Rachel takes her job extremely seriously and does not let her “to-do” list get in the way. If there is one person I look up to as a role model in all of these areas, it is Rachel. I cannot believe I get to hear her speak in person – in 4 days! How lucky am I.
Rachel Stafford says
Oh now that is a KEEPER! THANK YOU!! I am printing it & will refer to these meaningful words often. You totally made my day … my week … and I cannot believe I get to meet YOU in 4 days! SO EXCITED! California, here I come! 🙂
Just ‘love’ on so many levels as a mom and teacher! May I please share your article with others at our school? It illustrates beautifully what’s really important as an educator. Thank you for sharing, Rachel!
Rachel Stafford says
I would be honored if you would share it, Cathy! And thank YOU for doing the most important job in the world! What a blessing you are!
Barbara Hilow says
I am 60 years old and strove to raise my 2 sons with this philosophy. It wasn’t an easy road since their dad was more of a ” when I say jump, you ask how high” person. (The total divergence in parenting was a contributing factor to our divorce.)
I was fortunate to have been raised by a mother who followed your philosophy , so I had a great foundation. And I was lucky enough to have a couple of “those” teachers, plus my high school guidance counselor.
My boys are men now, and I’m pretty sure I succeeded! Even through the defiant teenage years and on into college, they came to me with their big problems. And as adults they still ask for my input on some of their decisions. They are both compassionate, loving, accepting people. My eldest and his wife carry on with your philosophy in raising their kids.
So to any of you who are scoffing at this approach I say, “Give it a try. The rewards are endless!”
Rachel Stafford says
Thank you, Barbara! Your comment is pure gold! I will remember this! Bless you, dear one, & the loving & accepting men you raised!
Wow…some deep thoughts for me today. A VERY precious gift i just received in reading this.
Mel Hudson-Nowak says
Thanks for sharing such a wonderful moment of connection. I’m a mother and business executive who started blogging a year ago to celebrate the stories of life and connection that bring me joy and growth. Last week one of my posts moved beyond the circle of people who know me personally and touched others. Connections are so precious and a core part of our humanity. Have a great day.
That is remarkable. A beautiful example. I will think about this at my job…and leading adults that need to be seen and understood.
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