Crowded in a standing-room-only auditorium, I looked beyond the waving sea of tissues, and listened intently as the speaker had to enunciate over a chorus of sniffles. A young woman who had graduated a few years after me was recounting a personal tale of her time with our high school theatre teacher. The year before I became a teacher, I attended a memorial service for a wonderful woman who had an immense impact on my life.
Of course, I recall attending the event clearly; after all, Ms. G was quite beloved for many reasons. Many of which were her eccentricities. We loved her because of what she taught us about theatre and about the world. We loved her because she saw the best in us and expected us to achieve great things. But, one line from this memorial service that has stuck with me ever since was when the young woman, who grew up to be a teacher as well, recalled a time she came to Ms. G for advice.
Ms. G’s advice for a then first year teacher was so simple: “You have to love your students – each and every one of them.” She went on to clarify, she did mean love in a true sense, and she did mean everyone. You couldn’t pick or choose which students you bonded with, which you liked most, you had to love each one. Because the students need that.
I’ve thought about this often over every year of my career as a teacher (Ms. G sadly passed away the year before I became a teacher). I sometimes wonder if it is possible to manufacture love. I wonder if I have the ability to adhere to her advice. I wonder if I can overlook frustrations. I wonder if I could ever be as impactful as Ms. G.
And lately… I’ve realized she’s right – they need this. Our students need to be loved; they need to be supported, and they need to have grace. What I’m starting to realize is that it may be possible to manufacture love. I may not know them well enough. I may not have had a chance to bond, but every day, the kids need to feel love, they need to feel patience, they need to feel support.
I don’t mean this as if “because we don’t know if they get love at home.” I do not mean “because we don’t know their daily struggles.” I just mean, because we are their teachers, their leaders, their guides, we must show them love.
If my job hinges on educating others, then inherently, my job relies not on my performance, but rather on theirs. If I robotically conduct class in a manner where I never verify the education and improvement of my students, I am not sure I could be called a teacher; instead, I may be a presenter.
So, if my job requires their success, I have invest in their success. I have to see them through to improvements. I have to care. And if I do not love them, why would I care if they succeed?
I could see people countering this notion that we could want to see growth without personally investing in our students, but I don’t know if we would have a real criterion to measure. To understand a student’s progress is a pretty intimate feat. This bonds us.
I think I have had to remind myself of this maxim a lot. I think I have been tested often. I also think for most years, I didn’t quite “get it.” But something about this slowed-down approach we’ve stumbled into post-remote learning has really made the immediacy of this maxim clear.
I have to re-center myself, empathize, and change my approach daily. I have to pause and think about what is best for each student I interact with, and each student needs to end the conversation thinking that I love them — they won’t label it with that word probably. But they feel supported, seen, and understood, one day they may look back at me the way I look back at Ms. G.
My love for Ms. G had always been comical – laughing at the way she mimed things, or the way she danced, telling people for years about how she threw a boa at me and in earnest screamed, “you gotta chase me! Chase me James!” during an audition.
I realized much later in life how much I appreciated her, and when I heard those words at her memorial, I finally knew why decades of students were crammed in the auditorium to say farewell — she loved each and every one of us, and because of that, there wasn’t a thing in the world that stopped any of us from showing up to tell her we loved her too.