By Dr. Jennifer Fontanini — Yesterday, my colleague, Linda and I went to our university’s photo shoot for our new marketing campaign.
We met several energetic, kind, and creative young people who took our pictures and recorded short interview videos. Throughout the process we asked their names and tried to get to know them in the short time we were together. I guess that teacher thing about building relationships and showing a genuine interest in people is just part of who we are. One young man, Kenny, was surprised that we asked his name and engaged him in conversation.
He asked what we did at the university and we told him, “We teach teachers.” He said he had never actually met anyone who teaches teachers. He asked us to explain what we did and why.
Then he told us that he was sorry he didn’t make the most of his time in school. Kenny described himself as the class clown and the child we would not have wanted in our classroom. He admitted he wasn’t always a serious student, but did okay in high school and by his senior year he was getting his act together.
As he was sharing, I realized that because we are teachers he felt he needed to apologize to us for his past behaviors. I stopped his apology and told him it wasn’t his fault. He was the kid. He then shared that it was two teachers who took an interest in him and helped him turn his life around. We shared that good teachers do that. They get to know their students, take a genuine interest in their success and engage them in the learning process.
That’s what we try to model to our students. That’s how we teach teachers. That’s how teachers should teach their students.
I love working with students like Kenny. No matter the student, I live my five basic rules for getting to know students and everyone I meet.
- Call people by their names.
- Ask something about them. (Get to know them.)
- Be genuinely interested. Give them your full attention.
- Say, “Thank You!”
Dr. Jennifer Fontanini is Associate Dean of the School of Education at Cardinal Stritch University in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Jennifer has a B.S. in Secondary Education, a master’s degree in Curriculum and Instruction, and a doctorate in Educational Leadership. Jennifer specializes in curriculum design and professional development. Her research focus is program evaluation and teacher effectiveness.