Thirty Seconds. Every Student. Every Day

It’s hard to be a teenager.

On Thursday, some of my students were trying to process their fears about what happened in Florida while others were dealing with the no less real pain of hearts left just a little battered by Valentine’s Day and the pangs of unrequited love. Whether it’s the fear that their schools might not be safe places or the world-shattering pain when someone doesn’t acknowledge the rose you sent on Valentine’s Day, the exuberant, creative joy of adolescence is often balanced with pain and fear that can feel quite overwhelming.

And all those overwhelming feelings need to be kept in check at school, where students and teachers must focus on getting through material, some of which no one wants to teach or learn. It can be difficult to tell how a student is feeling, what they are worrying about, and what they are struggling with, given the tight schedule and academic demands of a school day.

But it’s critical that we make out best effort to reach out to every student in our classes.

For some reason, an article about NBA coach Mike D’Antoni (then with the Knicks) has always stuck with me since I read it in 2009. Describing his philosophy about practice when dealing with a team of 15 multimillionaires, D’Antoni argued that he made sure to reach out to every individual player at every practice:

And so it goes. D’Antoni makes the rounds. A tap on the shoulder. A quick question. A pat on the back.

Check in. Get a feel. Let ’em know you’re there. Let ’em say what needs saying.

“A coach I had in Italy told me once: ‘Thirty seconds. Every player. Every day,'” he tells me later. “You want to connect.”

It’s a simple, powerful rule. Every day, each student deserves a moment of individual attention, whether it’s asking a question in class discussion or asking how their game went over the weekend. I certainly fail to reach every student every day, but the simple act of making it a goal makes me aware of the need to reach out when I’ve missed someone.

Having someone notice you and acknowledge your value matters.

Despite the wide array of interests our students possess, if a teacher can’t muster some genuine excitement or feign some interest in anime to engage a student, I’m not sure that teacher should be in a classroom. Isn’t education about asking questions and learning through them?

All this came to mind when I learned that a new student sat in the wrong class for four days this week without the teacher in the room either noticing or speaking to him to help him find the right spot and let him know that he’s an important part of our community, a person we care about.

It’s infuriating. Even more important, though, it’s a reminder that if we don’t speak to a student on Monday because we were just a little too busy that day, we sure as hell better remember to talk with him/her on Tuesday.

Every student, every day. We might not make it, but better damn sure better be our goal.