Not long ago I saw the first trailer for Dear Evan Hansen – the movie. And while Ben Platt is looking suspiciously old for a high school student, I can’t say I’m not excited. If you haven’t had the opportunity to see this Tony-award-winning musical yet, you’re missing out. The story, the music, the cast—they’re all relatable to anyone who is a parent, a child, a sibling, a friend, a bystander, or just a human seeking connection.
While there are no teachers in the story, I find that Evan Hansen has a special message just for us. Why? Because at the heart of the story are 8 characters, all of whom are beautifully flawed as they attempt to connect with the people they care about. If there’s one thing we as teachers should strive to do, it’s build connection. Whether it’s to our students, our content, or ourselves, connection is at the heart of education.
So, inspired by the music of Dear Evan Hansen, here is a back-to-school guide for teachers seeking to build connection.
“We start with stars in our eyes.”
Most of us enter Kindergarten full of promise and curiosity, indeed with stars in our eyes. But somewhere along the assembly line of formal education, the stars in our eyes start to dim. 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 their 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. Just be you.
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.”