But First, Relationships

Guest Blogger: Steph Chavez

I remember my very first evaluation meeting. I was so nervous and so naive. It was my first year teaching, and let’s be honest, who really knows what they’re doing that first year? My evaluator started off the meeting by saying “You spend too much time on relationships instead of curriculum. Relationships are not as important as the curriculum is”. I really can’t tell you what else he said during that meeting because I was so fixated on his comment.

That comment replayed in my mind for weeks and I questioned everything I did in my classroom up until that point. I felt guilty at the thought I failed my students and questioned if I was good enough to be a teacher. Then I remembered something I learned in college: Take it purposefully, not personally. Could I have spent more time on curriculum? Absolutely. Teachers know there is never enough time to get through all we need to. Was I going to sacrifice relationships in the process? Absolutely not. While my evaluator was right in the fact I had room for improvement when it came to curriculum, I knew relationships were still an important part of my classroom. I am a firm believer that building relationships comes before curriculum.

Relationships are at the heart of this profession and what makes this profession so rewarding. For me, it is what keeps me going, especially on those tough days. There is no magic formula or one size fits all when it comes to building relationships. And that is the beauty of it. Every teacher brings their own style and finds what works for them.

I like to spend the first week getting to know my students and laying the foundation of building relationships before starting any curriculum. When it comes to relationships, it is not one lesson that gets checked off a list; it is an ongoing process that lasts the entire year. After that first week, I keep it real with my students and make sure to ask about their lives outside of my class. I am human, which means I am far from perfect and I want my students to see that. It’s vulnerable, but I make sure to let my students see me fail and I own my mistakes when I make them. It is also important to know my students on a personal level. This can be as easy as asking about how their softball game went the day before or what new song they are learning on the guitar.

One of my favorite times to build relationships is during passing periods. While there are a million things I can be doing to transition before the next class, I always make it a priority to stand in the hallway. These are some of my favorite moments of the day. I get to greet each student by name as they walk into class. Although that may seem small, for some students it might be the only time they hear their name that day. It is also easy to tell what kind of day they are having too. I can tell who didn’t sleep much the night before, who is stressed, who is really excited about something and can’t focus, and so much more. Passing periods are only five minutes, but you would be surprised at what can happen in that time. There have been tears shed over a break up, random stories, celebrations for college acceptance, venting about a job, excitement about something they learned in another class, pictures of their pets, funny (sometimes inappropriate) jokes, last minute review before a quiz or test. Passing periods are my favorite time to connect with students on a personal level.

Over the years I’ve gotten better about balancing curriculum and relationships. Yes, curriculum is important, but first, relationships. Remember that first year of teaching? I still keep in contact with many of those students. In fact, I even officiated one of their weddings. Relationships matter and last long after class ends.

Steph Chavez is an 8th year high school social studies teacher in Littleton, CO.  She’s a Type B teacher who runs on coffee, sticky notes, and corny jokes. 

She is confident our students are going to change the world because her students change hers everyday.

We are excited to share her thinking with each of you through her blog, but also the takeover on Tuesday, Sept 29th. See you then!

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