The Human Touch - Nurturing Students by Showing that you Care

Otto Katt is a second year Teaching Fellow at the Irving Middle School in Roslindale, MA

"One looks back with appreciation to the brilliant teachers, but with gratitude to those who touched our human feelings. The curriculum is so much necessary raw material, but warmth is the vital element for the growing plant and for the soul of the child." - Carl Jung

Building relationships with students is one of the most critical aspects of succeeding in the classroom. Behavior management, instructional techniques, and content knowledge are crucial to being an effective teacher. But, without that emotional investment from students, without them feeling that you are genuinely invested and care about their success and wellbeing, there might as well be a robot in front of the room droning on about fractions, prefixes, and Abraham Lincoln.

One of the highlights from my first year teaching was during the depths of winter, when the grind was really getting to me. As I made my way to the cafeteria to meet the oncoming horde, a smile pasted on my face, students began passing me on the stairs.

One student shouted out,“Hey Mr. Katt”,

and then another student, “Hi Mr. Katt”,

and then another, “How’s it going Mr. Katt?”

“Can’t wait for class Mr. Katt”

“Mr. Katt did you watch the game last night?”

With each exchange the smile on my face became less pasted, and more sincere. In less than a minute my outlook and mood had swung from a sense of dejected apathy to a sense of mission and zest. While that day’s lesson may not have necessarily been drastically better, I certainly know I was more invested in my student’s outcomes.

What motivated those students to take the 5 seconds to engage someone who makes them do their homework when they’d rather fool around? Why would students, who know I’m going to call home when they misbehave, care about how my day is going? It begins with me investing in their well-being. It starts with me genuinely caring about how their day is going, what struggles they are facing, what challenges they are facing in school and life.

Here are ways to engage students outside the classroom:

It’s the conversations in the hallways about that show they saw last night, about how the Celtics really need to play better defense.

It’s hanging out on the steps of the school waiting for parents and talking about how we were going to improve our interaction in class.

It’s bus rides to college field trips talking about arroz con leche, arepas, and the empanadas (one of my other favorite memories is debating the culinary nuances between Dominican and Puerto Rican cuisine with students).

It starts in the gym, sweating through my dress shirt and ties, scuffing up my wingtips as I take the rock to the hole impressing students that this old man can show them up on the court.

Students want to feel wanted, cared about, and at times even loved. That’s not something you can learn in a training, from a book, or in a class. It comes from within. And at the end of the day, the care you show for your students, often comes right back at you.

Share your stories of a teacher who impacted you by caring or how you've impacted your own students by showing that you care!