Teaching Love

Post submitted by Kim Westheimer, former Director, Welcoming Schools

In the Welcoming Schools film, What Do You Know? 6 to 12 year olds talk about gays and lesbians, a 12-year-old gender expansive child recalls how his kindergarten teacher explained what the words gay and lesbian were and told the class, “Love is love and you shouldn’t turn love into hate.”

I sometimes marvel at the clarity with which this child remembers a teacher’s words, which for him were spoken half a lifetime ago.  It’s a reminder of the lasting impact of educators.

So let’s take a moment in this back-to-school season to appreciate educators and what they do to create caring classrooms for students who are starting this school year with varying degrees of excitement, trepidation, or even dread.

Let’s thank the teachers in Ferguson who went the extra mile for their students when school was postponed for two weeks.  Some of them held classes at public libraries so students would have a place to go, some opened school cafeterias so students would have a food to eat.  Some joined parents and students to create welcome back signs to greet students when they did finally return to school.

Let’s thank the educators across the country who spend their own money to equip underfunded classrooms, who stay up late grading papers, who take the extra time after school to talk with struggling students.

Let’s thank the educators who take the time to get to know and reach out to students’ families.

Let’s thank the educators who attentively learn their students’ names in the first week in school, sometimes in classrooms with close to 40 students.

The research is clear that when a student has just one adult who believes in them and cares about them they are more likely to succeed in school and life.   The same outcome is true if they feel connected to school. 

I know a teacher who had a classroom of students who were not connected to school and whose spirits were bruised by adults who thought they could not succeed. Every day she would start class by saying. “I love you, I believe in you, you can do this.” They looked at her with disbelief at first, but after a few weeks they began to see that she meant what she said. Soon they were staying after class for extra help. Soon they were handing work in on time.  Soon they believed that they could succeed in this class and they did. This teacher is one of legions who help students succeed by creating community and connection.

Thank one of them today.

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