Here's a story about a mom who learned a lesson from her third-grade son and realized she needed to change the way she approached her job as a teacher. Sarah Slivosky is a world language teacher at Stevens Forest Elementary School in Howard County, Maryland, USA. She has been teaching Spanish for 17 years. After spending the majority of her career teaching at the secondary level, Slivosky came to Howard County Public Schools last year as part of the elementary world language program and says she has enjoyed the transition to teaching students in Pre-K through fifth grade.
By Sarah Slivosky
"Mom, I just want someone to notice me.? It was almost bedtime, and my 8-year-old son, Adam, just uttered a statement that would keep me up most of the night. "Who do you want to notice you?" I asked. "Anyone. Boys. Girls. Girls would be especially nice," he said with a slight grin that was quickly replaced with seriousness. "Teachers. Anyone. I just want someone to notice me." I was crushed.
The more we talked, the more my heart broke. I realized that even though he was only in the third grade, my son went to school every day and felt invisible. Adam told me his theory that teachers notice only certain groups of students. He felt that many teachers spend the majority of their time helping the struggling students who need a lot of assistance, correcting the behavior of the students who are constantly getting in trouble and noticing the very gifted students who quickly master a concept.
Adam shared example after example, and there was no room for argument. He told me about a classmate who always gets in trouble. This student stands out for his poor behavior, so when he follows the rules or does something simple like wear a new shirt the teachers often notice and compliment. "Mom, I understand that some students need the teacher more than I do, but I just want to be noticed once in a while. I do my work every day. I am respectful, and I follow the rules, but it doesn't seem to matter. Why should I even bother? The teachers never say anything. When I dressed up last week, no one said anything. I just want someone to say something." I felt my sadness turning to anger.
As I was sitting there trying to figure out what to say and considering what I should do as a parent, my son asked me a question that would wreck me as a teacher. "Mom, do you do this? Does this happen at your school? Do you only notice certain students?"
I was stunned and convicted. As soon as Adam asked the question, names and faces immediately came to mind. They were students very similar to my son. Students who worked hard, followed the rules and tended to be on the quiet side. One student in particular stood out. Had I even spoken to her today?
In fact, when was the last time I talked to her? Why had I not told her that I appreciated her working so hard or that I liked her new haircut?
"Mom," Adam interrupted my silence. I admitted that his observations were correct and that many times as a teacher, I tend to notice the struggling students, the challenging students and the excelling students.
I do not try to ignore the other students, but sometimes it happens. My response felt so empty.
It felt more like an excuse. If this topic would have come up with other teachers, just a few months prior, I probably would have given a list of justified excuses. I would have said that I teach seven classes a day, that I have more than 100 students and a curriculum to cover. As a teacher, that response would have felt justifiable. As a mom, it felt meaningless. How many of my students felt like Adam? Had any of my students had this conversation with their parents?
Adam's observations were more accurate than most of us would like to admit. As teachers, we are and should be mindful of the struggling students who need additional instruction and support. We have to address the behavior of students who could disrupt our instruction, and our attention is naturally drawn to the more extroverted students who have proudly mastered a concept and want us to challenge them further. There is nothing wrong with this, but what about everyone else? Are we noticing each and every student? Are we being intentional in our daily interactions?
One of the great things about my son is that he has dogged determination. Whether I wanted one or not, I now have a built-in accountability partner. Adam regularly asks me what I have done to notice each and every student. I try to make sure that every time I recognize a student who regularly gets attention, I also notice a student who does not. I am trying to make my "invisible" students more visible. I am much more deliberate in my daily interactions.
For Adam, it has been a challenging year, but there have been improvements. I am thankful for the times he has been noticed at school, and we celebrate these. He is fortunate to have his twin brother in many of his classes, which is great for both of them. My husband works near our sons' school, and has made it a priority to join them for lunch on a fairly regular basis. Because our sons attend school in a different school system, I am not able to do this, so I write notes. I regularly include little notes in their lunches, homework folder and anywhere else I can think to hide them. I have also tried to be more purposeful as a mom in acknowledging their teachers and making sure that they know that our sons appreciate it when they are noticed. As parents, teachers and humans, we all lead busy lives.
At the end of the day, it is all about the relationships we build. We need to be intentional and strive to positively notice the people in our lives.