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“The best part of teaching is that it matters. The hardest part of teaching is that every moment matters, every day.”

Todd Whitaker

I love this quote. It reminds me why I teach. More importantly, it reminds me that the best things in life require hard work.

At first I thought of it purely from an instructional standpoint – every minute of every class period matters.

But on second thought, I looked at it from a relationship standpoint – every interaction with every student matters, every day.

Oh, I learned early on that being unprepared creates chaos that throws off the whole day, but I also learned that the relationships you build with students carry a lot more weight than most people realize. As Rita Pierson puts it, “Kids don’t learn from people they don’t like.”

I don’t want to downplay the academics of teaching. You have to be prepared. We’ve all had that teacher who flies by the seat of his/her pants. My best (worst?) memory is the college English professor who walked in the first day of class 14 minutes late, looked around at us and said, “Oh, my, I forgot my syllabi,” and then turned and left to get them.

But I firmly believe that no matter how well you know your content, if you don’t build relationships with students, you miss a lot of those moments that matter.

I think of conversations I have had with kids as we walk down the hall; conversations that were not content related but life related. I think about the times kids have eaten lunch in the classroom, and I learned about their families.

I think of my Texas teaching years when I played football (badly) or four-square or whatever else on Fridays because we could wear jeans, and I could be a little more casual. I remember the day one of my boys challenged the 4th grade teacher to a foot race because she said she was faster than him (she wasn’t).

I think about writing ‘Come see me,” on the top of a paper instead of a failing grade because I knew the student didn’t understand the material and needed me to reteach it.

I think about asking “What’s wrong?” or “What’s up?” instead of “Why isn’t your homework done?” and finding out about a mother having to wear a heart monitor because she kept passing out and the doctors didn’t know why.

And to take it one step further, those moments matter even when students leave your classroom. I am reminded of this often.

It’s the former student who messages me to ask a grammar question. She knew I’d take the time to explain about apostrophes on singular nouns that end in s.

It’s talking basketball with a former student who posted an awesome video of himself winning a slam dunk contest, and telling him how impressed my kids were, and then the conversation progressing into him offering my daughter advice on getting better at jump shots.

It’s the student who emails to ask me to proofread a paper…even though I was her teacher 20 years ago.

It’s running into a parent in the produce section of the grocery store and getting invited to a graduation party because “you made a difference.”

It’s dropping donations off at St. Vincent De Paul and having a former student say, “Do you remember me?” and his face lighting up when I call him by name and say; “Of course I do. You’ll always be one of my kids.”

Every moment matters. What you do. What you say. How you react. Every moment matters.