I am leading a course in effective teaching, and last week’s class included a discussion on making students feel safe in our classrooms. I want to share one story shared with us during this part of the course.
I will call the student Siaosi (See-ah-OH-see). He is in Kili’s homeroom, and she has a delightful relationship with her students. She is definitely the boss of her classroom, but her students look forward to time in her room. Her homeroom students begin the day with a scripture, a hymn, and a prayer. Kili watched through the beginning of the school year (remember, school begins in January here), and after a few months, she noted that Siaosi, who is not LDS, was comfortable with the routine and began asking Siaosi to participate in the devotional routine. He accepted, and contributed well to the good feelings in class.
Well, a while back, Siaosi missed three days of school. When he returned, he explained that he had been in jail. He had been waiting for a bus to school, and some boys from another school started teasing the Liahona boys, and the teasing turned to bullying, and the bullying resulted in a fight. Even though Siaosi had been on the sidelines, he had been taken in by the police and kept overnight.
|Bringing 1200 students to school on privately-owned, unscheduled buses means a transportation headache for anyone, even under the best of circumstances. Throw in some teenaged impulsivity and you have an even larger problem...|
|A lot of students get transported to and from school in the open air!|
When he was released, he walked to his home, only to find his clothing in a pile outside the front door. His mother, talking to him through a closed front door, told him she didn’t want him at home any more, because he would be a bad influence on his younger brother.
Siaosi found another place to stay, and continued to come to school. After a few weeks, he asked Kili for help. “I trust you,” he told her. After a long discussion, he picked up the telephone, and dialed his mother’s number. “Hello, mom. It’s me, Siaosi. I just called to tell you I love you and I miss you.” He hung up the phone softly - his mother had said nothing. Kili assured him that she would continue to support him, and promised him that she would help him find a way to make things better. Siaosi left her classroom encouraged by her words and actions.
A few more days went by, but then one morning Siaosi stopped in to whisper to Kili, “Thank you very much.” No further details were given – the class was about ready to start and both teacher and student were unavailable. But when all the classes took their lunch break at 1:00, Siaosi came back to Kili’s classroom to explain: “I’m back home! My mom let me come back home, and everything’s better.”
Students who feel safe in Kili’s room know that she will do everything I her power to keep them safe, physically, intellectually, and emotionally. What does that say about effective teaching? What can I do for one student today, for one person, to make them feel safe, to make them tell me, “I trust you?” I think those are the three most powerful words a teacher can ever hear.