The lessons I’ve learned from my students and clients have become a part of who I am, how I parent, and how I view the world. My mistakes shaped me.
I was 25 years old when I first started working as a middle school counselor in southern CA. Excitement bubbled throughout me because I was fulfilling my dream of “making a difference” in the world.
I remember gluing copies of prior year school photos for each student on index cards. My goal was to learn all 323 names prior to the start of school so that I could welcome my caseload on a first name basis. I imagined the delight on my students’ faces when they heard me call their names. They’d feel seen, heard, and important. I had no children at this stage, so devoting more than twenty-five unpaid hours to this mighty endeavor seemed logical. I began my first year of counseling with gusto and the confidence that all of the students would love me.
There I stood, outside my office on the first day of school, ready to whip out Sarah’s name and positively impact her educational progression and success. However, the student photos I used were taken a full year prior, which translates into innumerable changes for tweens and teens. More than half of the students were unrecognizable from their 2×3 inch photo.
But whether or not I recognized them didn’t matter. I was an adult in their eyes and tweens and teens don’t care about the adults on the first day of school, or for most of the days of school. They care about who they are going to sit with during lunch, what friends are in their classes, whether or not their outfits are cool, if the teachers are mean or nice, will the curriculum be exciting or boring, and a million other things. The overly eager new counselor calling out random names registers as strange and slightly creepy.
Twenty plus years later, I can confidently say that I wasted so much time memorizing faces and names. My attempt at “knowing” the students was totally off base. They had never met me. I had never met them. Connection is made through personal interactions, being there when needed, and remembering important details after getting acquainted.
I wanted to be liked. I wanted to be important. I wanted students to need me. But what I wanted doesn’t matter. What matters is following through with commitments, reacting without judgment or opinion, developing trust, listening, being an advocate, creating a safe space for students to come on their own accord, and providing thought provoking and enriching social-emotional curriculum and programs. Proving that I know a student’s name means nothing in the absence of a relationship.
It reminds me of Maya Angelou’s quote:
“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”