Sometimes, as teachers, we spend too much time talking. Sometimes, we worry so much about transmitting our knowledge to our students, that we forget about the art of listening. We forget that it is not our voices that matter most in our classrooms, but those of our students. We seek so desperately to be heard, when in reality, it is our job to hear, to make our students feel known and acknowledged.
After my second ACE summer, my students reminded me of this truth. When I returned to my school, Santa Clara of Assisi Catholic Academy in Dallas, I had many middle school girls come to me with struggles about their self-confidence. These young women came to me at different times from different cliques, but each approached me with the same basic desire: a place to talk about the body image and relationship issues they were facing.
Because of these encounters, I started a program for my seventh and eighth grade girls called the Embody Love Club. The club’s mission is to empower girls to celebrate their inner beauty, commit to kindness, and contribute to a meaningful change in their school. We would meet after school and have "girl talk" (as we called it) and do various self-esteem building activities.
One of the most eye-opening activities for club members was a “compliment books” exercise. At the end of a meeting, each was given a small book. The girls passed the books around the circle, and each person had two minutes to write a compliment about the book’s owner. The only rule was that compliments could not be based on appearance. The girls were amazed that other girls had even noticed their interests and skills, much less found them impressive.
Often, this meeting was my favorite part of the day because girls who never interacted with one another were chattin' it up all over the place. While I was the sponsor of the group, I never led the discussion because the girls would take over. They had a lot on their minds, and it was beautiful to hear them relate to one another’s struggles.
For example, one student shared her body image issues. Because her brother and father had both made comments on her weight, she felt deeply insecure. Another student, a member of the “popular” clique, shared that she felt unsure how to interact with boys. These ladies may have aligned themselves with different groups or belonged to different grade levels, but at the Embody Love Club, my students found common ground.
These meetings shed a new light on my students. During each gathering, the young women talked for two hours about their hopes and dreams for the future. Meanwhile, I just listened. They spoke, and I heard them.
My favorite event from the Embody Love Club was an organized trip to see the movie “Hidden Figures.” The movie depicts the true story of three African-American women who battled racism and sexism as employees at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. The girls were so excited to see one another (and, I hope, me) out of school and to watch an inspiring movie about girl power.
The Embody Love Club was a humbling experience. Those meetings with my middle schoolers allowed me to realize that my girls had real challenges in their lives. In fact, they struggle with things that I struggle with.
I think somewhere along my ACE journey, I forgot to step back and listen—to listen to my students as they shared their troubles, to listen to my friends and community members as they talked about their days, to listen to my mentor teacher as she offered suggestions, or even to listen to silence. We get so caught up in the daily hustle and bustle of teaching that we forget to stop and hear, really hear, those around us. I found that once I made effort to hear those around me, to acknowledge their voices and their stories, I had a new appreciation for each student, friend, and acquaintance in my life.
Are you looking to make an impact in the lives of children? Visit ace.nd.edu/teach and request more information on ACE Teaching Fellows.