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April 19, 2021

Building Relationships with Students: Being Rewarding, Not Exhausting

New Teacher Survival Guide

What I miss most about being a classroom teacher are the relationships I had with my students. I miss getting a million hugs from kindergartners and hearing former students yell, “Ms. Jones!” I miss sitting next to students as they learn how to read, feeling like I had just won the lottery as they decipher “cat” independently.

But what made teaching so wonderful is also what made it so hard. The relationships were all encompassing. I loved my students so much at school, and I loved them so much when I went home. When my students were having difficulties, I worried about them all night. During my first year of teaching, I worried about my students so much that I ended up with a perpetual stomach ache.

Whether you’re entering your first year of teaching or your 30th, I urge you to spend time this summer thinking about how you will strike a balance, building rewarding relationships while not letting the relationships overtake your life. For me, repeating two things like mantras helped: “Teach from the heart” and “You can’t do it all.”

Teach From the Heart

First step: build those relationships. There’s no way around this! Having strong relationships with your students truly will make your life easier. If your students know that you care about them, they’ll be willing to take risks, grow, and learn along with you.

After spending 34 years as a teacher, Stephen Rutherford shares his best advice for teachers: teach from the heart. It sounds so simple, but this can be easy to forget when you’re surrounded by mandated curriculum and grade level requirements. As you enter the classroom next year, remind yourself that the number one way to build relationships is to make your teaching personal and share your passion with students.

Realize You Can’t Do it All

Last year I wrote about how the job of a teacher is never done. This may prove hard to remember in the moment, but try to remind yourself of this truth when your job feels impossible. Your job feels impossible because it is impossible to achieve all the things you hope to get done. But even if you finish only a portion of your to-do list, you’ll be accomplishing impressive feats.

Find time to let go and decompress. When you worry about your students all night long, you’re helping neither them nor yourself. Cultivate your life outside of school — it will make you a better teacher to have hobbies and a social life. Happy teachers create happy students.

Love your students deeply, while simultaneously surrounding yourself with love. To effectively teach from your heart, you’ve got to nurture your heart. You have a beautifully impossible, endlessly rewarding job. To be in it for the long haul, you’ve got to create supports for yourself from day one.

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