Creating Moments Our Students Will Remember
By Allison Riddle
After the birth of my second child, I took my beautiful six-week-old daughter in for her first check up. I knew what to expect, but I was surprised at what happened when the doctor came in to join us. He scooped my baby into his arms and nuzzled her into his chest. Then, as he stood swaying from side to side, he said, "So, how are things going?"
No stethoscope, no exam, no blood draw.
"Is there something I need to know?" I asked him. "Is everything okay?"
"Everything is fine," he laughed. "I just miss this part. I love taking time to cuddle the new ones."
That day I learned something that made this brilliant doctor much more human to me. He appreciated simply enjoying his patients. I felt cared for and appreciated because we were important people in his life, not just his patients.
As educators, our profession is very different from medicine, but there are parallels. We, too, observe our 'patients'—we ask them questions and assess their needs. We observe their challenges and analyze evidence and data in order to diagnose and generate action plans for learning problems. We administer tests and use the results to make critical decisions. We prescribe strategies for skill development and recovery. We confer with parents and share with them suggestions for helping their kids develop 'healthy learning' habits at home. Indeed, the work we do each day in school is very clinical in nature.
Still, like my daughter's doctor, I'm often eager to stop and appreciate my own students. I want to put aside the scheduled lessons, drills and formative assessments and just enjoy them as little humans. Sometimes I want to just take in the moment, talk or eat lunch with them, and smile and giggle as they tell stories of their weekend adventure.
The daily demand and depth of instructional practice is such that there seems to be little time for this luxury of basic human interaction, much like in medicine. In recent years, the disproportionate focus on standardized testing has greatly reduced the minutes teachers can spend connecting with students on a more social level. In the elementary grades, far fewer hours are spent on aesthetic experiences involving the arts. The pressures of assessment performance compel teachers to focus most on completing the scheduled set of weekly reading and math lessons and tests. Gone are the days of long art projects, kickball games, or impromptu singing, dancing or dramatic readings. We must always stay on schedule.
I have never forgotten that day when my responsible, respected family doctor took the time to cuddle my new baby and ask how things were going for us. He calmed my fears and gave me a moment of joy watching someone appreciate the perfect baby I had created. Reflecting on this experience, I want to find spaces to do the same as often as needed in my classroom. Let's all make the moments to 'cuddle' our students in a rich discussion, share family stories, ask their opinions, take selfies, dance to music, appreciate falling snowflakes, or whatever the moment brings. Our students will little remember the weekly spelling or reading quizzes, but they will no doubt remember how they felt when they were in our classrooms.
Allison Riddle is the 2014 Utah Teacher of the Year and a member of the National Network of State Teachers of the Year (NNSTOY). She is the Elementary Mentor Supervisor for Davis School District in Farmington, Utah.