Years later, kids remember how teachers made them feel.
I came to teaching later in life. I was 30 when I got my Masters in teaching. My first job was at a vast traditional public high school near Portland, Oregon. I immediately realized that this environment didn’t work for me as a teacher, nor was it the best learning environment for many of my students. So, in 1993, four other teachers and I opened the Pacific Crest Community School in Portland.
Two weeks ago I attended the 25th anniversary of the school! It was amazing. Most of the founding staff attended, as well as the current school staff. There were also about 60 students and parents from the original few years of the school.
For me, this was like stepping into some weird time machine. In my mind, I remember the students as they were in middle and high school, which is how old they were when I left the school in 2000 to move to Walla Walla. Now, they were in their late 30s or early 40s. They were doing all sorts of things as adults: one is a filmmaker living in Hollywood; one has a Ph.D. in chemistry and is working to make sustainable fake meat products from vegetable matter (she tried to explain it to me, but it was way over my head!); one was an electrician; one was a teacher AT Pacific Crest. Some of the former students who attended the celebration graduated from Pacific Crest, while others were at the school for only a short time before transferring to other schools.
As they told stories about their days at Pacific Crest, there was one common thread. Few if any remembered anything specific about what they learned in school. All, however, recalled how the teachers made them feel. They talked about how the teachers valued them, cared about them, stuck by them when things were hard, and challenged them to be their best selves. They know they were supported and loved. All these years later, that is still what they talked about.
On my four-hour drive home, I thought a lot about this. I was, once again, amazed by the power teachers have to influence the lives of young people. Teaching can be frustrating at times. Kids can sometimes be challenging. It is essential, however, to remember that what we say and do as adults resonate through time. In fact, it sometimes takes the perspective of time to understand the full impact of what we do as teachers. For, students will not remember what we say, but they will remember how we make them feel.
This is why at Willow Public School, we place such a huge emphasis on relationships. For people to be genuinely engaged in any endeavor, whether they are young or old, they need to feel valued, supported, and honored. They need to know what they do matters. They need to have mentors who will challenge them and help them. If we get this right, our students will succeed academically. More importantly, however, they will be on the road to being happy, caring, and community-minded adults. And who doesn’t want that?