Teaching Starts with Relationships

Teaching Starts with Relationships

April 11, 2017
By
By Peter Kerr, Teacher, Learning Resources, Senior School

In June, 2015, I decided to retire. I had been teaching for 40 years, most recently at Crofton House School. The next 14 months - the opening act of my ‘golden years’ - received only a mixed review. I had loved teaching and I thought I was ready for my next adventure. Instead, I missed the work, my colleagues, the students, everything! Most of all I mourned the absence of young people in my daily life, their openness and their energy. I was searching for a replacement when, out of the blue, in late August 2016, I was made aware of an opportunity to return to education -  there was a vacant teaching position in the Student Services Department; “classes” every block, but with small groups of students, in our Learning Resources (LR) Centre. It sounded like tutoring, but during school hours. Sign me up!
 
Well, it turns out there is much more to life in LR than I imagined. Intention soon collided with reality. I wasn’t surprised to find a team of teachers in LR. dedicated to supporting students. I knew LR had great value and that our school was fortunate to have this resource. My colleagues and I provide individual one-to-one support to small groups of students in a variety of areas, from academic subjects at all grade levels, to study and organizational habits, and written and oral presentation skills. So, yes, I am teaching and supporting the classroom teachers as they cover the curriculum. However, in LR I’ve also been given the chance to step back, slow down, and witness how teaching starts with relationship.
 
I guess I always knew and practised the idea that at the core of teaching is trust and a healthy connection with students and that teaching cannot occur without those things. In LR, this idea is reinforced. Students learn that we care, and that we want to know what they are dealing with, what they are proud of, and anxious about. I am no longer a classroom teacher focused on getting through “Chapter 4” by next week. I can use whatever concepts are currently being discussed in any and all of their classes to help students examine and learn from their successes, frustrations, patterns, strategies, and reactions to life within and beyond their classes. I have been surprised and impressed by the depth of student-centred learning that takes place.
 
As for “Chapter 4”, it could be in literally any subject and I’ve found myself researching lessons and consulting with teachers on topics I haven’t addressed since my own days in high school! These experiences put the shoe on the other foot. I am not the expert with all the answers. I occasionally feel vulnerable and unsure, just like the students. Student curiosity is often tweaked when the teacher admits to being stuck!    
 
Working in LR is an opportunity to get to know students as I find them in the present moment. I’ve been reminded that teaching only really works when we reach into the heart and understand and respect what we see. The students’ job is to allow themselves to be seen, not just for who they are but for what they could be. In LR, our conversations have the time to begin with “How’s it going?” “How did that figure-skating competition turn out?”  The group usually sits around a large table and we have an opportunity to share stories, one of my favourite things. Conversations are across grades and subjects. I am learning what it’s like to see the world, in a school context, through the eyes of students with unique learning challenges.
 
It feels as if I’ve unwittingly signed on for a course called ‘Supporting and Supplementing Student Learning’. “Support” actually runs in all directions through students, teachers, counsellors, parents and back again. Learning Resources is a rich, fertile environment and my unexpected return to education has been a pleasure, a privilege, and ultimately an education! The “resources” in the LR program are the people invested in each student’s learning. The “learning” ? Hopefully that will continue to be a part of my next adventure, beyond this year, as I identify more opportunities to learn about people.