Kelbie Jackson: A warning from a Utah teacher

The power we have as adults on the students we teach is beyond our realization.

(Ashley Gilbertson | The New York Times) A classroom in a school.

At the end of the second day of eighth grade, my friend, Megan, and I were running late for the bus. She hurried to the office to see if her mom could pick us up, while I ran to see if the bus was still parked and waiting for us. As we were running, I looked back to my friend, then as I turned forward, I ran directly into a door-sized glass window, instantly breaking my nose. Luckily, none of my classmates were around to see. But one person did see, my eighth grade science teacher. The next day, she forced me to confess the story of my black eyes to my entire class.

The impact this experience had on me as a thirteen-year-old student was life altering. I no longer wanted to attend school, I became incredibly anxious, my eating habits changed, and I was increasingly self-conscious about what people thought about me. It took me the entire school year to get over the devastation my teacher had caused me. Years later, when I became a teacher, I vowed that I would never put my students in the same position.

I promised myself that every interaction I had with my students would be positive and uplifting. Further, in order to build positive relationships with my students, I committed to doing three things consistently: learn about their interests and share my own, be authentic and have fun in class, and believe that all my students can do great things.

These three goals can be accomplished in many different ways.

As always, it is up to the educator to determine what works best for them; however, I know that when teachers have a clear understanding of their students’ interests and communicate their own, they will be more successful in their teaching because commonalities between the student and teacher will be discovered, resulting in an increase in student learning. Teachers need to transform their lessons to discover new ways to be authentic in the classroom. When teachers show authenticity with their students, it encourages students to make and build positive connections and relationships with their peers and their teacher. Sometimes certain activities will work for some classes, but not for others... and that is OK.

Finally, the teacher should discover and utilize many different strategies that will aid in students’ personal discovery that they can do difficult but great things. When students are being pushed in class, they will gain the satisfaction that they can overcome challenges. The important thing to remember is that the teacher should consistently maintain a positive environment that is focused on the student; it is our responsibility as educators to facilitate a positive experience for those in our care.

The power we have as adults on the students we teach is beyond our realization. As educators, we are not only teaching the students the content that we value, but we are also teaching students that they can rely on us no matter the difficult situations they may be facing. The role that we play in our students’ lives can impact their stories both positively and negatively, so it is essential that we, the teachers, be the positive role models that our students so desperately need.

Kelbie Jackson, op-ed

Kelbie Jackson is an instructional coach at Bear River High School in Box Elder School District. She earned her undergraduate degree in English and chemistry from Utah State University in 2015. Kelbie began her teaching career at Bear River Middle School in 2016 where she taught 9th grade English and 8th grade science — the very subject that caused her so much pain. Kelbie went on to earn her graduate degree from Grand Canyon University in reading with an emphasis in secondary education. After which, Kelbie transferred to Bear River High School where she taught 10th grade ELA and AP literature and composition until receiving her current position as instructional coach.