Education in the United States is a complex system. Each state forms its own set of rules and regulations regarding when, where, and how schools will be crafted, managed, and staffed. Each community within these states, in turn, takes its own approach to education based on its state requirements, federal mandates, as well as the specific needs of its community of students. From early educational opportunities through high school graduation, children interact with a number of adults in their school environment who are tasked with either educating or supporting education. Covering 13 years and a variety of subjects, students are given educator interactions with no fewer than about 40 adults who, in some form or fashion, shape what they eventually recall as their scholastic experience. Rather these individuals teach English, math, or history, or support the children as bus drivers or cafeteria workers, all are essential. However, regardless as to the role each of the adults is cast to play in the students’ lives, what the students will remember is likely to be less dependent on the subject matter and more dependent on the adult’s approach to the students as individuals.
Perhaps one of the best quotes in all of education can be attributed to a John Maxwell quote that offers, “Students don’t care how much you know, until they know how much you care.” Never before has this testament been more appropriate than in this post-pandemic environment where students have spent so much of the last 12 months learning without the benefit of the regular presence of educators, outside of the virtual environment. They have, in many cases, had to process, interpret, and infer what the lessons were intended to reveal since the unfettered access to teachers historically enjoyed, was less available. Furthermore, they have missed the regular support and presence of their educational community as a whole, which supported their learning in an environment where predictability and order ruled. This lack of a normal support system allowed many learning opportunities to be lost; however, more importantly, many of the key relationships where educators conveyed not only knowledge but also a climate of empathy and caring were dramatically less apparent in the virtual world.
A return to some semblance of a normal educational dynamic offers many benefits, including more readily accessible educators. While this allows the students to get answers to their questions while the discussion is still in context, it also allows them to witness the teacher’s support, caring, and genuine empathy for the student’s understanding both in and out of the classroom dynamic. When students reflect back on their education from Kindergarten through high school and the adults who most positively impacted their lives, it is those who cared about the students, and then the content who made the biggest impact. It is based on those very brightest star educators who were called to teach and who continue to inspire well beyond the school day or the calendar year, who are best remembered and missed, and whose lessons are most likely to be taken to heart. Independent of student age or ability, the single most influential individual in a child’s life, outside of his or her parents, is the teacher. A teacher who truly cares can change the world, one child at a time.
Dr. Angela Farmer is a lifelong educator, an author, and a syndicated columnist. She serves Mississippi State University as an Assistant Clinical Professor of Honors Education for the Shackouls Honors College where she can be reached at [email protected]