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What does it mean to care about a student?

favicon A student left me the following comment on our class website:

Mr. Isero, you know that I cannot go online because I do not have [the webcam] but obviously you do not care due to you have not given it to me yet.

The details of the story don’t matter. What matters is that a student thinks I fundamentally do not care about her.

This comment triggered me. I have long wondered how well I communicate care, especially across difference.

At first I was defensive: What do you mean, I don’t care? Look at all the things I’ve done to help you! Of course I care!

Then I got angry: How dare you address me with that tone! You should be honored to have me as your teacher!

I decided to do nothing until I met with her in person. After all, maybe I interpreted her meaning incorrectly. Maybe she was trying to be funny.

Nope. When I asked her whether she was serious, she said she was. And now I’m left to figure out what to do next.

My reflection: It’s pretty clear that there’s a breakdown in communication and trust. What I’m communicating as care is not being received in the same way. There is something lost in translation.

Also, I must be doing something (or not doing something) to create a sense of distrust. I’m not sure what that is. When the great majority of my students find me extremely helpful, and this student thinks I’m uncaring, there is something wrong.

My theory of action is that we need to talk more, interact more, and spend more time doing work together. It worked with a few students, so I have to keep on trying. My uncaring self wonders: Why does this have to be so hard?

In the meantime, I think it’s important to have a meeting with the student, her mom, and her adviser. We need to get out into the open what’s troubling us or else this negative dynamic will never disappear. favicon

4 comments

  1. TeachFiRsT

    I think one of the hardest parts of being an educator is that it is important to try to reach each student in as many positive ways as possible. I can understand that seeing this response can be very defeating and frustrating. I know that I would have had the same reaction that you had when seeing her comment. One of my biggest battles is getting teachers, parents, and the student all one the same team. Sometimes it can be discouraging because without the support from one member of the team, then the team cannot work. I especially become unhappy when it becomes the willingness of the student. Talking as a group with the student is a great start. However, it might be helpful to ensure that you are not coming across intimidating. The student may feel uncomfortable if she has to meet with all of you at once. It might be a good start if you notify the parents that you want to talk with her about this comment and that you will have a short meeting with her before or after school if possible. I think she will see your willingness to reach out to her as a positive and your relationship will grow from there. If not, I think it is important to include her advisor because this could be more than just her lashing out to you. This could be her way to say hey I need help and I don’t know where to turn or how to get it.
    Just remember if you are working this hard on gaining the trust of your students then you’re doing things right. This student is just a mild bump in the road and she jump on the fan train soon. Keep up your dedication to your students and don’t be to down because of her comment. Thank you for such a great post and reflection. In my master’s class now we are currently talking about the importance of reflection, especially when teaching. If you don’t mind me asking, do you use your blog as a way to reflect on your teaching or do you use it mostly for spreading information to other educators?

    • Mark Isero

      Thank you for your thoughtful comment. You’re right that perhaps I need to go step by step, first with the student herself and then going broader, if necessary. I’ll start with that tomorrow. Thank you also for your question about my blog. I think reflection is crucial in teaching. The only way to get better is to think about my practice and to make changes. I can’t and shouldn’t expect things to improve unless I’m putting in the thought myself.

  2. Angela

    Mark, thank you for this thoughtful post. You and I have talked about things like this before but it is always cathartic to write. It is an interesting dynamic. This encourages me to continue to question my practices and interpretations of my actions… and to get back to reflecting on my teaching in the written form more often.

    • Mark Isero

      Thank you, Angela. I agree with you about the cathartic element. I’m finding that blogging is different from talking with a colleague or writing privately in a journal. It’s sort of in the middle, actually. I hope you have a restful break, and I look forward to more conversations in the new year!

Please share your brilliant insights!