Think about your favorite teacher. Maybe it was kindergarten or fifth grade or even that college professor. Now ask yourself – why was this person my favorite teacher? Likely it’s not because of their ability to summarize Shakespeare or quantify quantum physics. It’s probably the teacher who helped you through cafeteria conflicts or cheered you on during a theater performance or athletic event.
After 17 years of teaching Ros has cultivated her own method of connecting with students. Here at Episcopal she freely shares her love of sports and science with everyone. It is also her passionate and playful side that students seem to gravitate toward. Beginning in April, Ros visually connected with students in a fun and impressive manner. Each day one of her 18 students created a unique and personal handshake. (Ros was inspired to take on the handshake challenge last year after watching a video featuring another teacher and his students.) Students taught their personal handshake to Ros, who then memorized the movements and performed it in turn. By May, Ros had memorized 18 individual handshakes – 18! She was able to perform each one in a sequence on the final day. Click here to see the video.
Like Mrs. Helbling’s daily affirmations, Ros’ handshake day is one example of a way that teachers connect to students and show them that they matter and they are heard. This is an important aspect of teaching that may often go unnoticed and that may not be part of the lesson plan. “I wear many hats. I teach science. I’m a nurse. I get to know them academically, but we’re also helping them be good human beings,” says Ros.
Relational teaching isn’t something written in a lesson plan. The connections simply happen as caring adults strive to teach the students in their charge and prepare them to navigate life. Ros, who didn’t initially plan to be a teacher, says her first year on the job certainly taught her the importance of this side of teaching. She looks back on that time when she was teaching in New York at an all girls’ school. It was 2001 and she experienced the national tragedy that occurred that September right alongside her students. A month later a student’s mother passed away. Ros says these are the experiences for which grad school and student teaching do not prepare you. She learned in the midst of the heartache to be there for her students and to see them as the individuals they truly are. That year did finish on a more positive note. She says even though the girls lived in a city with two professional baseball teams, most of them had never attended a game. As a lesson in persuasive writing, Ros had them write letters to the New York Yankees persuading them to give the students tickets to a game. The lesson paid off and the team delivered, perhaps creating a lifelong memory for some of the students involved.
There’s no question that Episcopal students will look back at their time in Ms. Won’s science classroom with fondness. After a year of national park exploration, outdoor learning and even a cardboard arcade Ros has made learning a meaningful experience. However, the connections and relationships she’s built with the students along the way will likely be what they remember most. After all, isn’t that what we all remember from our favorite teacher?