Let me start by saying, if you have the opportunity to see the Tony-award-winning musical, Dear Evan Hansen, do it. Just do it. You can thank me later. The story, the music, the stage design, the cast—they are all relatable to anyone who is a parent, a child, a sibling, a friend, a bystander, a human seeking connection.
There are no teachers in this story, and yet, I find that Evan Hansen has a special message just for teachers. Why? Because at the heart of the story are 8 characters, all of whom are beautifully flawed in their attempts to connect with the people they care about. And if I had to choose one teacher goal, above all other teacher goals, it is connection. We seek to connect students to ourselves, to one another, to our content. We fall short many times, but we never stop seeking connection.
So, inspired by Dear Evan Hansen lyrics, here is a back-to-school guide for teachers seeking connection.
“We start with stars in our eyes.”
Most of us enter Kindergarten full of promise and curiosity, indeed with stars in our eyes. And somewhere along the assembly line of formal education, the stars in our eyes dim little by little. Will you be the teacher that extinguishes that star for good? Or will you be the teacher that vows to find that diminishing star and to coax it back to brilliance?
“I’ve learned to slam on the break, before I even turn the key.”
Seeking connection with students, real connection, is not for the faint of heart. It requires that you take risks and learn from them. Students know when you are regurgitating lesson plans that you’ve done the same way for years. They also know when you’re trying something new, something specific to this class, this year. If you are intrigued with innovation, but never quite seem to pull the trigger, let this be the year that you take your foot off the brake, turn that key, and show your students that they are worth the risk.
“When you’re falling in a forest and there’s nobody around, do you ever really crash or even make a sound?”
Let’s be honest, you will not like all of your students. You will spend Sunday afternoons praying that some of them will be absent on Monday morning. But they all matter. Find your own way to let them know they matter, that you see worth in them, that you see a future for them even greater than they can see for themselves.
“It takes a little patience, takes a little time. A little perseverance and a little uphill climb.”
Consider for a moment, who is working the hardest in your classroom. Is it your students? Or is it you? The one doing most of the work is the one doing most of the learning. When students struggle this year, resist the urge to save them. Be encouraging, give constructive feedback, provide the supports needed, but let them earn success. Be the teacher that gives them that most rewarding feeling of actual accomplishment, for that is something they will strive for the rest of their lives.
“Dear Evan Hansen, today is going to be a great day and here’s why: because today at least you’re you and, well, that’s enough.”
Here’s the truth. Teachers have the most important job in the world. They provide the preparation and foundation for every profession of the next generation, even those professions that don’t yet exist. So, thank you for what YOU do. Don’t try to be the teacher you think your kids want. Don’t try to emulate some inspirational made-for-TV-movie teacher. Just be you. Think of the time you felt the most satisfied as a teacher, the most connected. Do more of that. Every teacher has their own superpower, so find yours and wield it proudly. Hold your head up high, claim all that is noble and admirable about teaching, and hear this: “Dear Teachers of America, today is going to be a great year and here’s why: because this year at least you’re you and, well, that’s enough.”
Top 5 Connection Hacks to Start the School Year
- First Five Minutes: Use the first five minutes of the day (elementary) or of every class period (secondary) to strike casual conversation with your students. Learn what’s important to them, seek ways to make yourself relevant to their world.
- Hallway Conversations: If you want to connect with a particular student, initiate a conversation with them in the hallway. Classroom conversations are great, but seeking a student out in the hallway signals that you care about more than their academics, you care about them.
- Attend Extra-curricular Events. This one isn’t easy, but it pays dividends. Time is not a teacher’s friend, and it can be impossible to find any additional time for your students. But if you invest in one football game here, one theater performance there, your students will notice. Children can be fiercely loyal to those they know care about them, so when you want them to spend that extra time to revise their paper, having the “you know I went to your football game” look, can come in very handy.
- Office Hours: Hold regular office hours and make sure students know you welcome their company in this time. Even if they never take advantage of it, knowing you are there for them is sometimes just enough.
- Greet Every Day: Welcome each student into your classroom. Look them in the eye. Make sure they know that you see them. Growing up is hard at all ages, not just adolescence. You will never know all that is going on in your students’ lives, but you can always let them know that you see them, that they matter to you.
Happy new year teachers! And you know what will make it a great year? Seeing Dear Evan Hansen. : )
Bonus: Have a listen for yourself.