Five Ways To Show Students You Care

Jose Vilson Education, Featured, Jose

“How do you show students you care and love them?”

Someone asked me that this afternoon. And every other week. Shout-out to the other eighth grade math teacher who asked it. I’m not about the touchy-feely stuff; I prefer to discuss techniques, strategies, and content where possible. I prefer to talk about race, class, gender, and take long walks in the city. I prefer to make sarcastic comments where possible, and tweet about the sociopolitical implications of the actions and inactions of our society.

I prefer to tell you that you shouldn’t show too much emotion on the first day. But I’m lying about that last part.

Because the five ways you show students you care is really about closing the gap between the person you are outside the classroom and the person you are in the classroom. That’s why these five rules are gonna take you real far:

  1. Show them.
  2. Show them.
  3. Show them.
  4. Show them.
  5. Show them.

It’s really simple. As I’ve found over the years, I can’t keep the straight face too long, and it’s more stressful to do so. I used to be a proponent of “no smiling until November,” but I noticed that, as I became better as a teacher, I needed to let that act go. Students respond better to teachers that overtly show care and love up front, so when it’s time to be firm, there’s a different level of respect there.

1) Tell them on Day 1.

On the first day, I plan to use words like “love,” “care,” and “respect” early and often. That’s because it front-loads the emotions I’d like to see in my classroom in case we inevitably get to harder parts of the year. I don’t have to tell children all year that I care about them because I already affirmed that. Also, words aren’t enough.

2) Save the yelling.

Please. For all of our ears. Learn instead to firm up your voice when it’s time to get serious, and diffuse situations that don’t need your voice when the situation doesn’t call for it. In the middle of trying to prove we’re bad and can’t be messed with, we risk losing our cool when the situation required more calm. For example, if the student is sleeping on a desk, there’s no need to yell as the student doesn’t pose a danger for anyone in the classroom. Instead, find a way to pull the student out and have the conversation, tell the student why that’s not acceptable, and then give steps for what’s expected (or refer the student to someone who can get her / him that nap).

3) Look prepared.

Having clean desks is a sure sign that you care. Having rituals and routines in some form shows students you care too. My desk is usually messy, but my students’ desks? Clean. Almost all year and without reservation. The environments they’re in matter a lot more than we give it credit for.

4) Greet them in one way, shape, or form.

Saying “good morning,” and strongly encouraging -cough cough- this opens up the classroom. It means you’re acknowledging each other’s humanities before you focus on the academic elements of your work. Some students may want to focus strictly on academics, but most of the students I know prefer building a relationship with the adult in front of them for almost an hour a day.

If we understand that learning is not linear, we then see how even some of the language we use puts students at a severe disadvantage. Math is supposed to be a rigid subject, devoid of ambiguities and interpretation. But the way to let students in is to assure that we explore those grey areas of math. For example, I’m happy when students reduce 50/100 into 25/50 because it means they understand the concept of reduction. Too many math teachers say that’s completely wrong. 25/50 gives the student more room for exploration. Similar analogies can be made across other subject areas, but saying “you’re wrong” is often a failure in communication to children who are seeking a path to success.

These are just some ways that we can show students we care. Yes, congratulate them on their birthdays. Yes, listen to their music and understand where they’re coming from. Yes, pat them on the back or acknowledge them in non-verbal ways.

Most importantly, make it clear that you do acts of caring year-round. Don’t wait ’til December. Because you don’t want to start building a relationship when half the year is practically over. That’s a set of relationships wasted.

photo c/o