Restorative Relationship Building

I cannot even tell you how many times a week I sit down and say to myself – “Wow, I love my job”. Now, this usually takes place amidst the tears of a stressful hour/conversation/day/week or the funny stories about my kids trying to convince me to “crack my belly button”, but nonetheless, even on my worst days, I come home in awe of the opportunity I have been given.

Like really – I can’t even explain it.

It’s so surreal to think that we start week 6 of school next week and I still feel like it’s day 1 of student teaching last fall – well, except now I’m without my favorite teacher guiding me every step of the way. In these 6 weeks, I have changed into an entirely different person, found my teacher voice and my teacher look, but also built relationships with students that I will treasure forever. On the opposite side of the spectrum, I have cried more than I ever told myself I would, learned more cuss words in Spanish than my high school and university level textbooks ever taught me, and also burned some bridges with kids that I am trying to build back brick by stinking brick.
I have been challenged, cussed out, and loved more in the last 6 weeks than I would have ever imagined, but I’m starting to finally realize what’s most important in life – not just to teachers or to students, but to people in general, and that’s relationships. I’m starting to think that I was given this opportunity not to improve my ability as a teacher, because holy canolis, if we learn any Spanish this year, I’ll be happy (so far we’ve got “corre” and “cierra la boca”), but rather to teach me about the crazy bond which exist between people. This bond isn’t one which spontaneously appears when two people meet, but rather grows from miscommunication and strife. It grows in that hard place where motivational quotes exist that always say “life begins outside of your comfort zone”.

Spending my last 6 weeks in a “restorative school” has really opened my eyes to the hole which is created when a lack of relationships exist. My kids, these pain in the butt kids who fight me on just about everything, are just about my favorite people on the face of the Earth (but really, if you don’t believe me, ask my fiance … I talk about them constantly). Learning about each one of them is the most enjoyable experience I will ever have, even if it is just learning about all the different names they can call a single person. They lift my soul and bring me so much joy, and it is with this joy that I think about all I have accomplished in the last 6 weeks of not-very-successfully teaching Spanish. You see, I am starting to think that relationships are built on more than trust and respect, but require a lot more of a person, like their passion and their love. I firmly believe that showing a person how you love is the best thing you can do for them – whether it’s taking their phone every single day, sending them to the office and showing them you do not tolerate that behavior, or writing down ALL THE CUSS WORDS you hear in a 98 minute period. Love is being tough and being firm, but love is also showing them that they are important and that they are being held to the same expectations as every one of us.

The kids in my school, though not all underprivileged and living in extreme poverty, are all deserving of love (Yes, even that one kid who is super rude and fights with me the second he walks into my classroom), and it is the lack of relationships they have had in their life that make this so obvious to me. This is why my job is so incredibly important, and why I love my job more than anything else I could imagine. In fact, a better title for my job position would be “Lady who constantly tries to talk to me no matter how many times I tell her to fu** off”. The bodies that walk through my halls have more stories to tell than time we have left in this world, and it is my job to listen to them; each and every single one of them, one by one – and for many, I will be the first or second person (because the teachers in my school are A M A Z I N G) to have had this privilege – what an honor.
Relationship building is about realizing what each person brings to the table and accepting it as fact. Do I wish that my kids weren’t having conversations with the police in the office during their science block instead of doing the lab with their peers? Yes, but as I continue to build relationships with the students, teachers, and families in front of me, the baggage is included at no extra cost, because that is what it means to show someone you care.

I’d like to finish off my rant as a white girl from the suburbs, working with a marginalized population, by saying that it does matter. All of it. There’s not a single part of my day that isn’t crucial in shaping my students and myself. We, as a society, are a product of the relationships and interactions we are a part of, and the most I can do for the students who walk through my door, is show them this – through my love, my passion, and my “too high” expectations.

If ever a student is to read this, I hope you know that I love you and I respect you. I know that you have been through more than I could ever imagine or understand, but also know that when you cuss me out in front of our class for asking you to throw away your paper airplane or your rubber bands that it just makes me love you more. Not because you have earned my love, but because you deserve it.


Seriously tired Ms. Sarah.

P.S. This wouldn’t be complete if I didn’t recognize my own relationship, the one with my best friend and my rock, literally the only one who keeps me sane. Erik – you da real MVP, and if you ever knew how much I talk about you at school, you’d hate my guts. I love you and I can’t wait to marry you.

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