The Most Transformative Ideas I've Said this Year

Last month, during testing season, stress levels are at an all-time high—for my 8th graders and their teacher. So when a student stopped doing his homework, I stopped letting him into my classroom. He sat on the floor in the hallway and moped, while I circulated with the other 24 students in my classroom and let my emotions stew. And then we both went home angry.

That weekend, I spent hours at a coffee shop near my house and graded. And graded. And graded. On my walk home, I stopped in my local bookstore and picked up a shopping bag full of bargain young adult books. I teach social studies, but the historical fictions, biographies, and memoirs have led to great investment in my class. I recently bought The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, and my students—including the Missing Assignments Master—devoured it.

On Monday, I crouched down next to his desk during homeroom. “I forgot I was mad this weekend, and I went to the store and bought you these,” I said, laying out several books on his desk. His eyes lit up as he picked one.

Later that day, he turned in all of his missing homework assignments and said with a grin, “The book is really good, Miss.”

Sometimes we forget how powerful student-teacher relationships can be when we’re working to transform defiance into engagement. Show a student that you’re interested in what they’re interested in, and you’ve already made progress. The most transformative words I’ve said in my classroom this year? “I saw this book in the bookstore and thought of you.”