Finished conferences today. I figured out another reason why I love my job. It's because I get to play shrink. Apparently I'm decent enough at it that most of my parents leave conferences with smiles on their faces, no matter how difficult their kid's academic experience may be.
My favorite conference was the kid who has worked his ass off since the beginning of the year to please his dad, and he has improved his grades immensely, but he's still not 100% with homework completion. Dad immediately latched onto the homework thing and wouldn't let go. After several of my tries to get through to him that his kid has been working his ass off (and being rebuffed with homework-related ultimatums directed at my student) I finally looked him in the eye and said, "You've obviously made education a priority. If very important to Student that he be successful in school. You're doing your job as a parent, and you're doing a great job of it."
He immediately breathed out, like he was holding his breath for the whole conference, and you could see him physically relax. All the tension went out of his shoulders. And for the whole rest of the conference, he actually listened to what I told him. He even admitted that he was proud of his son. You've never seen a prouder kid than Student was as he left my classroom. Dad smiled at me and shook my hand as he left. He was so worried that I would perceive him as a bad parent because of his kid's behavior that he needed some kind of validation. I guess he got it. And so did I, because at the end of that conference not only did I feel good about my student and his relationship with his dad, but I felt like *I* had done something special.
Then at my last conference today, I had an interpreter come to translate for the parents. She has been the interpreter at all of my conferences this year, and I really like her. She's easy to talk to and has a beautiful accent, plus she speaks Spanish clearly enough that I'm beginning to be able to separate the words and understand it better. The conference went long as we were talking about this and that, and afterward I walked her to the office to make a copy. As she was leaving, she smiled at me and said, "You're a really good teacher. All the parents and students are saying that." I could only stammer my thanks as she walked out.
In the seven months that I've been at this school, I've received more validation, both internal and external, of my skills and strengths than I did in the entire eight years at my previous school. I don't know where it comes from for sure, but I think I know a couple of reasons. First of all, my mental health is so much better. I'm able to believe it when people tell me I'm good at something, and instead of automatically saying in my head, "You don't know what you're talking about," I'm starting to see what they're talking about. I don't doubt or hate myself the way I used to.
Secondly, I'm in an environment that is not exposed to constant failure and hopelessness. You immediately start to doubt yourself when you have to work so hard for so little gain. Here, I'm seeing so much more gain. These kids are learning, I'm making a difference, and their behavior changes when I model how to behave. When I teach something, it sticks. These kids WANT to do better - they have the motivation to do so. It makes it so much easier to come to work and WANT to do more for these kids when I get so much more out of them for my efforts.
Another reason - I really think it's that I laugh so much more now. I laugh with my students, I laugh AT my students, I laugh with my fellow teachers, I laugh with my parents (especially one who volunteers at our school - she's frickin' hilarious). I go to work and I'm happy to be there. I wouldn't be so happy if I weren't doing something right.
And the last reason...I adore those kids, more than any class I've ever had. They tell me that I inspire them, they talk to me about things that are bothering them, they tell me that they like the way I teach or that I always teach it so they can understand it. They email me to ask questions about homework or just to say hi. They come in before school starts just to hang out, or stay in at recess so I can play shrink for them. They tell me that I'm the only teacher who has ever liked them, or that they love that I encourage them to catch my mistakes. They invite me to their basketball and softball games. They cry when I tell them how much I believe in them, even though they just hurt someone else with their words - and then, in front of the whole class, they stand up for the student they hurt.
I'm good at what I do not because of me, but because of them. They inspire me, they push me, and they make me want to be better. I just hope I don't ever let them down.