As educators we give our all for our students. They become like our own children with whom our hearts break alongside of, we laugh and eat together, we give up hours of our time to help, and we lose sleep over often.
And I think just about every year we all have “that” student. That one we work tirelessly to reach. Either academically or emotionally we throw everything we have at them. Every time honored and research based practice or tool and even every skill we’ve learned ourselves along the way.
But sometimes no matter how hard we try, it’s like we get no where. And in those moments, if you’re like me, you’ve probably blamed yourself. In those times I’ve thought, “what am I missing that I can’t reach this child?” or “do they not see how much I care or how hard I’m working for them? Why won’t they meet me half-way”.
When I started in education I had this unspoken belief that it was my job to save every student that was given to me. And if I didn’t “save” them (emotionally or academically) then I failed as a teacher. And honestly, I felt like I failed as a caring, concerned, educated person in general.
Then I remember listening to an educator I respect and what he said has stuck with me for years. He said, “You can’t save every child that comes into your classroom. And that’s not your job. Your job is to love them and educate them to the best of your ability”.
That lifted such a weight off me for some reason. Just to know that I wasn’t terrible just because I didn’t “save” all my students. And I want to make something clear though, I didn’t hear what he said as a reason to not try my hardest for every student. I didn’t understand it as saying we shouldn’t give our everything no matter what. Not at all.
I think of education like planting a field. It may have been my job to till the soil. I may be the one planting the seed. I may be the person who is watering it daily. Or even better yet, I may be the one watching it grow and harvesting the fruits of our labor. But I don’t have to be all of those people.
That’s a hard thing for those of us who are elementary educators. So often, we are the ones tilling the soil and planting the seed, but we don’t always see the growth. That was made even more clear to me when a student from my first year of teaching (over 10 years ago) reached out to me last summer for the first time since leaving my classroom, just to tell me he was graduating and the impact I had left on him when he was in 4th grade. A student I worked tirelessly for and never felt like I reached him.
We may not be able to save them all. Some of them may have pain too deep or educational gaps too large for just one person to fill. But if all of us are giving everything we have to each child who walks through our doors, one of us will reach them. And in the end, as long as someone reached them, we did our job.
At this point in the year many educators are exhausted. They’re worn out from the beginning of the school year and the hard work that entails. And some of us may also be at that point with “that” student where we just don’t know what to do anymore. Here’s what I say, when you’re at that point, just love them. Show up every day, give them a clean slate, and love them unconditionally. And tell them. Don’t just show them.
And continue to try new ideas, new tools, new resources. And lean on your colleagues.
We’re all in this together. Whether we plant the seed or harvest the crop, our job is to educate and love these children. Even the ones we might not be able to save while they’re in our classroom.