During all my years of elementary school, I never once imagined the life of my teacher outside of the classroom. What did they do when I left school and went home? Did they walk their dogs? Play with their kids? Read books? It didn’t occur to me to even imagine it.
It wasn’t until seventh grade that I saw one of my teachers as a living breathing person who existed beyond the four walls of the classroom. Miss Larrabee taught Civics and Pennsylvania history, and we knew who her favorite band was. We knew her favorite place to get pizza. The books she liked, the TV shows she watched. She talked to us like we were people, deserving of her time and attention. She asked our opinions. She told us stories, and wanted to hear ours.
And I do believe it’s possible, that I remember a little more about PA Civics than seventh grade English or intro to biology, because I remember Miss Larrabee. She was a real person. She knew us. But maybe even more than that, we knew her.
Somewhere in the first year as new teachers, we inevitably get taken aside by a seasoned colleague who scolds us out of any notion that we should get personal with our students. You’re not their friend. Your personal life is just that…personal. There’s a line between you and them. Don’t cross it.
And although there is much wisdom in the intent behind these words of advice, we know that teaching and learning are intensely personal. To completely separate our lives outside of the classroom from what happens in the classroom is, in our opinion, a mistake.
Reading and writing are two aspects of our personal lives that help us forge personal connections with students.
We know our students’ reading lives can be enriched when we share our own reading lives. They know what we’re reading right now and what is on our TBR stacks. They know that Mrs. Brittin cries at the end of every book, and that Mrs. Salay loves books about animals. We gush over our favorites and tell them when we abandon books as well. And we celebrate when a student comes to one of us and says, “You have to read this. I think you will love this book.”
We share our writing lives too. Whether it be our writer’s notebooks, writing along with students, or talking about a personal writing project, students benefit from seeing the writerly lives that we live in and out of school.
When my grandmother passed away last year, I was devastated. I found it difficult in the weeks following her passing to maintain my usual upbeat demeanor with my students. So I took to my writer’s notebook, writing entry after entry…short, long, poetry, prose. I wrote until I had written everything. And then I showed my students.
Our reading and writing lives are just one way to connect with our students in and out of school. If students see that teaching and learning are personal for us, they may be more likely to reach outside the walls of the classroom to make their own learning rich with relevance for their own lives.
We would love to hear the ways that you connect with your students.
To see all of the day’s Slice of Life posts, head over to Two Writing Teachers.
~ Jen and Darla