Relationships is a big buzzword in education. It kind of makes sense, I guess, that as teachers, we should care about the kids we are teaching. You would think it should be expected.
In most of the interviews I’ve been a part of, they have just come out and asked something like,
“How important do you think relationships are in education?”
Now, there is probably a reason I am just a teacher, and not an administrator, but I think this is a really awful question. Again, you’d have to be a bozo or a jerk not to realize exactly how this question should be answered.
Nobody would ever ask,
“How important do you think not cursing at the students is?”
But it’s kind of the same type of question, isn’t it?
“In this field where you teach children, and work cooperatively with other adults, how important do you find relationships to be?”
We can do better education interviewers, we can do better.
Perhaps an interviewer could ask some questions around the topic, just to see if the person interviewing for the job is either a complete bozo or a complete jerk. If they didn’t have the wherewithal to say something positive about relationships, they would fall into one of those two categories, and probably shouldn’t get the job.
On to the real story…
The importance of relationships was woven into the fabric of my educational training, as I worked towards certification. So even when I wasn’t lobbed the softball question mentioned above, I knew how to steer the conversation towards relationships and tug at the heart strings of an unsuspecting principal. Part of me hates to admit that, but, it’s true.
To be fair, I really did, and do, value relationships, more now than when I started, but I also knew it was beneficial for me to bring it up and discuss it in a positive light.
This was particularly true when I was a 21 year old, trying to earn my first teaching job, in Tuskegee, Alabama.
At that time in my life, I was very much out of place in that high school in Tuskegee, Alabama.
*Interestingly, while the school system in Tuskegee did not have a local supplement to pay teachers, there was a stipend that came in from the local dog track. True story. The principal told me this as if it was a real selling point. I couldn’t figure out if that meant they gave me some money based on how well the track did during a given season, or if I got some type of credit that I could use to go and bet on the dogs, to try and increase my supplement. I really hope it was the second one.
However, once I started reeling off the importance of relationships, the principal said I was, “A man after his own heart”, and was ready for me to start the next day in a high school English class. Never mind the fact that I had no business teaching high school, or English, or in Tuskegee.
A number of years ago, I was applying for a head coaching position that I desperately wanted. I thought it was good job and a great opportunity. I had a firm grasp on what it would take to be successful there, and most of that dealt with building relationships with the players and making a commitment to serve them on and off the floor. It was going to be a huge undertaking, if done right, but I believed that the key to success there was going all in with and for the players.
Again, “relationships” is a buzzword, so I try to be very sensitive to that in my conversations, particularly in an interview setting, because I feel that it can come across as disingenuous if you are not careful, simply because it has become very commonplace.
It was both necessary and genuine in this instance, so I hammered the point home hard. I talked over and over about how much of an investment needed to be made in the players, and how important it would be to develop and maintain healthy, supportive, constructive relationships.
I actually believed in this so much that I got emotional right there in the interview as I was talking about it.
The principal, who very much wanted me to know that he was in charge of the interview, cut me off at one point, leaned over the table, took off his glasses, and said:
“You keep talking about relationships, and it’s reeaaaal easy for you to sit there and talk about it. But you better be ready to live it every single day for these kids. Are you?”
And, in one of the finest moments of my life to date, this is how I responded:
*The beginning, until 3:08, was my big moment*
*Warning, there is a curse word at the end*
Of course, and sadly, that isn’t true. I did, however, look him in the eye and tell him, with great conviction, that I believed everything I was saying, and that I was indeed as committed as I said I was.
I did not get the job.
He hired someone he knew better than me. Relationships were also important to him.
Despite the theatrics, he was right, on some level. We need to be prepared to LIVE the things that we say are important to us. In this instance, our relationships.
If we indeed value them, we need to express this by how we live and how we love, within those relationships.
And it is really, really difficult to do this well. As a teacher, 4 months into the school year, when you are working with a student who is rude, unmotivated and threatens to “make you freakin’ pay”(true story), it becomes really difficult to focus on relationship building. Or when you are coaching, and you have a player who likes to argue with everything, has poor body language, and is generally difficult to get along with, focusing on “relationships” is quite a challenge.
Honestly, scenarios like these can force us away from focusing on people and move us towards something that feels more like basic survival. It’s much easier to focus on problems than it is people.
It takes a big heart and great conviction to stay focused on people during the grind of our day to day.
The good news is, if we don’t have a big heart or great conviction right now (or in certain situations), we can grow both of them. I don’t know what that looks like for you, but for me, it is simply (though not easily) focusing on people, slowing down, and being deliberate and intentional with how I am interacting with them. Sometimes, it means taking a beat when I walk into work in the morning, and reminding myself who I’ve decided to be, and what that might look like in the situations that I know are on the way. And over time, our heart grows a little bit. And we get better at it.
In order to be good at relationships, we have to work at them, on purpose. And people should be able to tell that we value relationships, not just by our sales pitch, or because we are able to crush softball interview questions. It only comes out in our interactions and the investments that we make in people.
My kids won’t know I love them because I tell them, but because I show them.
My wife won’t know that I value our marriage, unless I live as if I value our marriage.
My students won’t know that I care about them, unless they see me caring about them.
They can’t just hear it. They have to feel it.
I hope you’ll take the time to actively show those that you love and those that you say you love, how much you actually love them.
It’s pretty basic, but it can be awfully difficult.
But it sure is worth it.