As an identical twin it was always a challenge going through school. Initially my brother and I had to deal with the fact that our teachers could not tell us apart. My grandmother rectified this problem by outfitting each of us with belts that had our first initial on them. As we aged beyond the elementary years, teachers began to tell us apart better as some slight differences in appearance began to take shape as well as some major shifts in personality. Thank goodness for that, as we would never have survived through the middle school years if we were still forced to wear those belts.
The second challenge came in the form of academic achievement. For my twin, learning and success, based on traditional metrics, came very easily. It seemed to me at least that he did not have to put in much effort to earn high marks on assessments. Obviously my stance on grades and learning has changed a great deal since then, but this nonetheless posed yet another challenge of being a twin. I had to study twice as long or longer just to earn a B in many of the same classes where my brother got an A. School came much easier for my brother.
My saving grace came in the form of some amazing teachers. I loved the life sciences, particularly biology. My love for science eventually led me to pursue an undergraduate degree in marine biology. This genuine interest took hold in the 7th grade thanks to Mr. South, my science teacher. As I got to high school I still had a strong interest in science, but struggled in certain courses such as chemistry and anatomy/physiology. The struggle was amplified as my brother excelled in both courses. Ah, the joy of going to a small school.
Thankfully for me Dr. Raymond Hynoski was the teacher of both these courses. He was a quirky fellow at times, but someone who had a firm grasp of the content and helped students master the concepts. Each of his classes was filled with humor, relevance, and inspiration that everyone in the class could be a chemist or doctor. His most endearing characteristic was how he consistently went above and beyond to let all his students know that he cared. Each day I looked forward to attending his classes even if I struggled. I might not have done as well as I would have liked in his courses, but I tried hard and Dr. Hynoksi was able to emphasize even the slightest successes in my efforts to learn the concepts. I had to take chemistry. It was not a choice. Anatomy and physiology was an elective that I only signed up for because Dr. Hynoski was the teacher.
There are many lessons that caring educators such as Dr. Hynoski teach us. So much pressure is placed on teachers and administrators to achieve at all costs. Rankings, stakeholder perceptions about the importance of standardized test scores, and honor rolls do nothing but make this issue worse. This is unfortunate as grades and scores are not what students will remember. What will resonate with students long after they have passed through our schools are the educators who believed in them. The ability of educators to provide hope and encouragement that inspire learners to follow their dreams and aspirations provides a priceless value that is not often acknowledged publicly, but greatly appreciated privately.
The power of empathy and the act of caring could mean the difference between a child sticking out school or dropping out. School to many children serves as a refuge from the harsh world that is their unfortunate reality. It could also provide invaluable lessons that fuel a career path that might never have been imagined. Showing that you care daily takes only a little effort, but the potential payoff is much more valuable than what you could ever receive in a monetary sense.
All kids have greatness hidden inside them. It is the job of an educator to help them find and unleash it. Show that you care especially as students struggle. You can never care too much. Thank you to Dr. Hynoksi and many of my other teachers for teaching me what truly matters in life.
As adults we must not forget the power of showing each other we care. Positive encouragement and support go a long way in helping others cope with the challenges of life while building lasting relationships. Take the time to mail a card, make a phone call, or send an electronic form of communication not just to those in need, but to others on a whim. In my opinion, there is not a right or wrong way to care…. we just need to make more concerted efforts to do it regularly.
Source: A Principal's Reflections
I am a Senior Fellow and Thought Leader on Digital Leadership with the International Center for Leadership in Education (ICLE).