I don’t think there is a soul alive who thinks that children don’t benefit from one-to-one time with the adults they know and trust. Whether it is the child who looks forward to a weekly outing with mum or dad, a student who knows her mentor is coming to visit during lunch every Thursday, or the teenager who is working on a project and knows that a leader is going to help with every step of the project, that personal time is so important in establishing relationships of trust and respect.
And yet, even knowing this, teachers are rarely given the opportunity to develop such relationships. During the regular school day, I am in the classroom with my two dozen or more students and, even with small groups, don’t have time to get to know each of them on the personal level that comes from one-on-one time. Yes, I try to find ways, through conferencing, through conversations during recesses or when I am supervising students before school, but really, I don’t get as much time as I would really like.
I really found myself thinking about this last week when my wife and I were babysitting for some friends. Their daughter happens to go to my school and, even though she won’t be in fourth grade any time soon, I consider her one of “my” students because I believe that every student in my building is a student that I have some responsibility for. During the eight hours or so that my wife and I spent with this student, I got to learn a lot more about her than I would have known through random snippets of conversation here and there during the school day. We played several tabletop games, we went for a long walk, she met some children of neighbours and they played in the creek and got dirty and laughed and had fun, we went to the library, and we even ran to the store. All of these activities were things that she wanted to do with us and many were ones she suggested.
This got me wondering: when it comes to some of my more challenging students, how many of them are just trying to get my attention? How many of them crave that personal time with an adult who will listen, who will be there, who will be a constant in a world that is often far too uncertain? How many would open up if I took a few minutes after a long day of work to join them on the basketball court, even though I have no depth perception and, let’s be honest, no game. How many would feel they could trust me if I let them take the lead in an activity? How many of them would be excited to invite me to their homes, to see their Lego collections, their Xbox games, their books, their American Girl dolls? And how many are heartbroken when another soccer game, another basketball game, another volleyball game, another piano recital, another violin recital, another dance production passes and their teacher, who they know would like to be there, isn’t?
I don’t have the answers. I’m not sure if I can manufacture the time needed to build those personal relationships with my students. But I do know this: I am going to take time to pause from my rush from one thing to another to put down my bag and pick up the basketball. Because even if I miss every single shot I take, making a basket isn’t the target.