Only Connect

Post by Megumi Yamamoto for the Kind Kindred series.

Do You by Dia™
Do You by Dia™
Only Connect

I teach high school, which is the most amazing job in the world. I am allowed to be with people who are in the process of becoming who they are; they are so vulnerable and open that it’s scary sometimes. When I look around at my students and colleagues and think about my own life, one of the things that I wonder about is how the great, memorable teachers become that way. What sustains them? What’s different about the way they connect with kids?

I decided to do a little informal research into my theories about great teaching. My main research methodology involves forcing my students to write in their journals about things I’m interested in, so one thing I did last year was ask them to write about their best teachers. It’s no surprise that they talked about moments of connection — those times when they felt most understood. But what was surprising was how mundane those moments were. It wasn’t about receiving an award, or getting an A on a test. It was a conversation in the hallway between classes, or when a teacher noticed that someone had been absent for a few days and asked how things were going. And then, that teacher really listened to the student’s response. What this made me realize is that in my job, I am blessed and cursed by the power I wield. Teachers have the ability to make a connection, to be that right person, many many times each day. That’s a lot of pressure. Especially when we are trying to remember to take attendance and bring the lunch we packed last night and pick up the dry cleaning and call a parent. It’s hard to stop, to slow down, and have that moment with a kid. But it’s also what makes everything else go away and reminds me of why I’m here. One of the coolest things about teaching high school is that I get to work with the kids when they are all articulate and grateful and stuff like that. They are so good at remembering and telling these little stories. I’ve made it a goal to keep collecting them.

Research shows again and again that it’s the teacher in the classroom that has the largest effect on student learning, but none of those studies can define what makes a good teacher. I know why that is. It’s because you can’t measure caring with a checklist and making a connection to an adult isn’t an item on the standardized tests. As they say, not everything that counts can be counted, especially in the lives of the most vulnerable. Every year, I meet a bunch of new people who really, really want to connect with me, and I get to do that important work and I love it.

An English teacher can’t resist ending anything without a good quote: In Howard’s End, E.M. Forrester says, “Only connect! That was the whole of her sermon. Only connect the prose and the passion and both will be exalted, and human love will be seen at its height. Live in fragments no longer.”

When I look at Forrester’s words, I realize that it’s not just about being a teacher. At the same time I was thinking about all of this, I discovered Kind Over Matter and everything on the website just resonated with my concept that a small, simple gesture can make a huge difference in someone else’s day. In a way, it’s easier for me to do this connecting in the context of my job, because it’s expected of me there. The bigger challenge is as I venture out into the wide, wide world. I have to be brave and remember that even grown ups want someone to ask how they are and really listen to the response. I’m working on it. Thanks for being part of my journey.

Megumi Yamamoto teaches high school English in Cheshire, CT, where she lives with her husband Lenny, daughter, Zoe, and son Asher. She blogs at Taking Notes.


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