Touching the Heart of Every Student, Guest blog with Urbana Middle music teacher and FCPS Teacher of the Year Finalist Tom Mitchell

Posted on: Tue, 08/25/2020 - 16:00

Today’s guest blogger Tom Mitchell shares his thoughts about Touching the Heart of Every Student. FCPS Teacher of the Year Finalist, Mr. Mitchell teaches music at Urbana Middle School.

Do you remember your years in middle school? For me it was tough. Still floating through my brain are memories of failures, embarrassing incidents, and name-calling. But feeling the hurt of being teased helped me develop a positive principle in my teaching which guides my interaction with students every day. Today my aim as a teacher is to touch the heart of every student so they feel worthwhile and cared for.

Every class has students who live with similar failures, teasing, embarrassment, and trauma in their lives that we teachers cannot see. Some go home to alternating nights in different houses, face parents who are either harsh or apathetic, find their circle of trusted friends diminishing, or realize they have become a target of bullying. Negative influences like these have an impact on the social, emotional, and academic success of any student.

Teachers may be the only warm parental figure some students know. When students feel someone cares enough to recognize them as a special person, they respond with openness and a willingness to work a little harder. Teachers, start each day anew and give your students a reason to feel good about walking into your class. Sure, our primary objective in education is to foster student learning, but it becomes easier to achieve after we nurture the heart of the student.

James Ford, 2015 North Carolina State Teacher of the Year, writes, "Our first job as teachers is to make sure that we learn our students, that we connect with them on a real level, showing respect for their culture and affirming their worthiness to receive the best education possible." Does this sound like Social-Emotional Learning? You bet it does! Touching the heart of a student can be as easy as:

  • asking about their weekend
  • following up on a previous conversation
  • talking about their hobbies
  • warmly welcoming each student to class every day

Or it can be as difficult as:

•    attending the funeral of their parent
•    stopping by their home to drop off needed materials or a get-well note
•    holding monthly class meetings

It takes time and effort to build social-emotional-academic strength in students. One way I try to develop it is through monthly Class Meetings in which students participate in various activities. We sit in a large circle and give or get a compliment, we set a monthly goal, we elect the Student of the Month, and we play group building games. The smiles are heartwarming when students receive accolades from their peers and feel welcomed in a safe supporting circle of friends.

Research shows that strong teacher-student relationships positively impact many school statistics: higher student achievement, attendance, grades, fewer disruptive behaviors. When children feel that someone really cares about them it generates more energy for success, pride in their work, and a sense of their value to themselves and others. Results like that help propel students forward to success, when teachers are willing to touch the heart of every student.