Our Students, Respect and Appreciation

So, I received a phone call today that really upset me.  Like most teachers at any level, “my student” is not just a reference … it describes the connection we feel to the people in our classes.  This phone call made me think, and changed how I think about my students.

This student (call her “Tami”) is in my beginning algebra course.  She’s not doing especially well, and has missed a class or two.  When she was not in class today, I did not think that much about it.

Tami left a message on my phone while I was in class.  I did not catch all of what she said, so I called her back and this is what she said:

I’m sorry that I was not in class today.  I wanted to make sure that you would not drop me.  I was in the emergency room this weekend because I got stabbed in the neck.

I thought about that a little bit … here is a person who had a real threat to her safety and continued survival, and she’s calling me about her math class.  How do my flimsy excuses for not taking care of responsibilities stack up against that?

Some people might be thinking “Jack, you’re so naive … did you think that the student might be either lying or ‘enhancing’ the truth?”  Actually, I did think of those possibilities; I’ll know more when I see Tami in class.  In the meantime, I chose to trust my students by default; that is not always warranted, but it sure helps in the efforts to build a positive classroom environment.

Sometimes, we are very quick to presume that students do not come to class because they don’t care.  Certainly, that is the case for some students … though I have more students who attend class in spite of the fact that they don’t care.

I realize that this is not a unique experience; you might have had a similar experience where a student had a ‘survival’ level experience and still showed some commitment to their math class.  However, the experience reminded me that many of our students deserve our respect and appreciation for dealing with the huge challenges in their lives … and still try to work on their math class.  For some, math class becomes their one safe space in a world of threats and chaos.

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