Today I finished my teacher training program and my first year of teaching high school biology at a local essential charter school. This day marks the end of one of the hardest years I have had and one of the most fulfilling at the same time. I really enjoyed my students and how patient they were with me knowing that I was learning how to teach.
So on this last day, I asked my students to complete a survey giving me feedback about my teaching. I asked them “What are 2 things I do well as a teacher?” and “What are 2 things I need to work on and improve?”. It is important to get their opinions and to learn from them.
One response stood out to me and I has been hard to shake. Here are one student’s responses.
Q1: What are 2 things I do well as a teacher?
“You are kind to students and let them feel at home in class.”
“Your energy radiates to the class and makes an awesome environment.”
Not bad, eh? This feeling of safety and welcomeness was my goal and I was really happy that I successfully created this environment where students could feel safe to take risks and be themselves.
Q2: What are 2 things I need to work on and improve?
“Cracking down on students; don’t let your kindness get ahead of you.”
“Giving constructive and supportive feedback.”
Still not bad for a new teacher. I know I need to work on my constructive feedback….I also know they want me to give them the answer and I won’t because they need to do the critical thinking. So although I do need to get better we may never totally agree on this point.
What bothered me was that a young person felt that being kind could be detrimental. This broke my heart. At such a young age, this student was already confused about what strength means. I can successfully manage my classroom and my students without being degrading, mean, or using threats to convince students to behave. My strength is building trust, building community, building relationships and I do this with kindness and love in my heart. I do this by developing mutual respect that is not based on fear or authority.
Maybe this stuck with me because my freshmen college roommate once said to me, “People will walk all over you if you are too nice”. At that time, I also was disgusted. If someone takes advantage of you because you are kind, THEY are the problem not you.
It is incredibly sad that people think that strength is being controlling or mean or aggressive. What they don’t know is that kindness is a form of strength, it takes a lot inner strength to be kind to unkind people, to be kind in difficult situations, to maintain kindness when you may not feel like being so kind.
In a world full of hate and selfishness and misguided “power”, isn’t it worthwhile being “the energy [that] radiates… and makes an awesome environment”?
So regardless of what ‘others’ think, I will not change. Because my kindness is stronger than their insecure need to control. Do not underestimate me or others like me.
“Human kindness has never weakened the stamina or softened the fiber of a free people. A nation does not have to be cruel to be tough.”
-Franklin D. Roosevelt