Editor’s Note: Corey Oliver is a National Board Certified Teacher in English Language Arts. He teaches 7th grade English in the Conway Public School District in Conway, Arkansas. The views expressed in this blog are his own.
Walking proudly across the stage at his high school graduation, Julien wears a smile that expands as cheers erupt from his adoring friends and family members and as he approaches his principal, who hands him his long awaited high school diploma. Julien’s fan club consists of not only his friends and family, but also at least one of his former teachers, who beams with pride as Julien (one of the teacher’s students during his first year in the profession) crosses the stage. Throughout the ceremony Julien’s former teacher has reflected on the phenomenal experience his first year was. He has reflected on the wonderful relationships that he developed with the students in his classes that year, and, in particular, with Julien.
Early in his eighth grade year, Julien invited this teacher to see him play in one of his hockey games on a Sunday evening. What this teacher initially saw as a simple gesture of supporting a student while becoming more familiar with the sport of hockey became a powerful experience — an experience that solidified a student-teacher relationship that remains indelibly etched in the teacher’s mind nearly two decades later.
As Julien exits the stage after receiving his diploma, he looks up in the stands, spots his 8th grade English teacher, and says with great excitement, “Mr. Oliver!!!…I did it!!!”
I never anticipated the ensuing ripple effect of attending Julien’s hockey game prior to going, but reverberations carried through the remainder of that school year, through the years leading up to Julien’s high school graduation, and even beyond. After attending that initial hockey game (and a few more as the semester progressed), I witnessed in Julien a steady and positive metamorphosis from a withdrawn, cocooned individual to one who was eager to take part in classroom activities, interacting with his classmates and me. I saw Julien transform from a student passively observing “the game” from the bench, to a student fully engaged in the action on “the ice.”
Education is a full-contact sport; whether it be through attending their extracurricular activities, making positive phone calls home, or taking the time to talk and listen to students about matters unrelated to school but important to the students, teachers create a positive and mutually beneficial relationship with their students. This symbiotic relationship is just as positively rewarding for the teacher as it is for the students. On an end-of-year survey my students completed before summer break that year, Julien wrote, “You have made a difference in my life by showing me that you care, by coming to my hockey games and encouraging me to do better. I will always remember you.” The adage is true: “People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.”
The role of relationship in teaching is pivotal and inextricably tied to student success. At the end of a lengthy “catching up” letter Julien sent a few years ago, he wrote, “I feel like you have influenced me beyond middle school. You have done something that I want my life to be defined by. You were my favorite teacher and I always wanted to make sure I did my best when I was in your class. I hope to influence youth like you have influenced me.” The foundation of relationship that I established with Julien during that first year of teaching has come full circle as he, now in his early thirties, is a lead instructor in a behavioral hospital, where he teaches social skills to at-risk youth.
Remembering Julien recently, it occurred to me that in addition to the Five Core Propositions and the seminal text, What Teachers Must Know and Be Able To Do, which is at the heart of Board certification, teachers might also find it worthwhile to declare a “pledge of relationship” to their students.
In honor of Julien, and future Juliens, might I suggest: