Tribes in South Africa traditionally greet each other with “Sawabona,” which means “I see you.” The response is “Sikhona,” which translates to “I’m here.” As I watch my students finish up this busy school year, I’m making sure they feel that I know they are here at school and here in my life.
At the beginning of the year, I ask my students’ parents or caregivers to write me a letter or email telling me what they think I should know about their student. After all, they know their child best and their insights help me get to see their child as more than the student I see for a few hours a day, five days a week.
One parent letter this year stopped me in my tracks and brought tears to my eyes.
This mom wrote to me that when she asked her son about how he felt about his fourth-grade year, he got very quiet and wouldn’t look at her. When pressed, he eventually replied with tears streaming down his face and whispered, “No one saw me last year.” This inspired my personal mission to make this student (and all my students) feel seen this year.
As my nineteenth year of classroom teaching winds down, I’m reflecting that truly seeing each student has become more and more difficult. Higher class sizes, rigorous learning standards, and more and more students experiencing personal trauma make it harder to achieve adequate one on one time with each and every student. It can be easy to let some students, especially the quiet ones, slip through the cracks without building and maintaining deep relationships.
My favorite part of every school day is when I’m not worrying about pulling small groups, writing in our agendas, or achieving learning objectives. I stand at our classroom door to greet each and every student as they enter our room. It is important that I make a physical connection with each student in the form of a hug, handshake or high five. You would not believe how many former students swing by my very-far-out-of-the way-portable-classroom to grab a quick high-five and chat before starting their day in other classes. I make a verbal connection with each student as I check in with them. I ask about how their soccer game went, if they finished the book they were engrossed in yesterday, or if their grandma is feeling better. It only takes a few minutes but it pays back in priceless ways through relationships.
I have two weeks left to connect with these students. To make sure they know they matter- to me, to our classroom, to the world. I’m going to make the most of every minute I have left with them. To see them. To acknowledge that they are here. Sawabona. Sikhona.