By Guest Blogger Kelly Nichols

Ideas, methods, technology, the pandemic etc. have changed our classrooms, mostly for the better. But there are some things we must never change, the ability to make a sincere connection with other humans. Education is all about people; how to get the best out of each of us. For that to occur, we must make a genuine connection with others. I have been incredibly fortunate to have a true connection with people who have crossed my path. Each and every one of them taught me more than I ever gave.

The Bold Lesson

She bounced into my classroom daily and always had some information to share. That morning, she informed me that she wasn’t going to the fair. Confused, I requested more explanation. “My mom said that we couldn’t do both the fair and Christmas this year so we chose Christmas.” I was torn between thinking what an awful choice she and her siblings had to make and admiring the fact that mom included her children in a responsible financial decision. The one thing I knew for certain was that I wanted to help (so the kids didn’t miss out and support mom). So, I recruited a friend and we took 3 children to the fair. I am not certain who had more fun, the kids or me! That connection continued long after she left elementary school. I attended her high school graduation. Many years later, we met at Chuck E. Cheese so I could meet her own children. She reminded me to be bold, unfettered, and enter the room with presence.

The Connection of Pay Attention and be Flexible

He always appeared unconcerned with my response to him, a unique quality for a third grader. (I think he just hid it well ). As I got to know him, he turned out to be one of the brightest, wittiest students I ever encountered. I remember making it my mission to actually challenge this kid. I gave him work that was more complex, required more thought, and demanded insights. He devoured all of them. Once I gave him a spelling list with words spelled with British English. When I told him the words were incorrect, he quietly found the dual accepted spelling, and I apologized. He taught me that being flexible counts, that you can quietly but assuredly stand up for yourself without talking down another, and that I should pay closer attention to the information I was giving him because he certainly was!

The Connection of Childhood and Adulthood

She was in one of my first classes. Her parents were so supportive of the school, my classroom, and me in every way. In fact, during a silent auction at school, her father outbid me for an autographed picture of Michael Jordan. I was a young teacher with very little “extra” money and he did quite well. It wasn’t a fair fight at all and I’m pretty sure I told him so. Immediately after he won the autograph, he handed it to me and said, “I don’t know why you want this thing anyway!”. Fast forward a couple of decades when I posted on Facebook about a bargain at the gym I attend. She reached out to me and said she’d like to come. I was thrilled, delighted, and so excited to see her again! I see her daily now and while she’s so much more than the adorable six-year-old I once knew, I still feel her, I remember. She taught me that becoming an adult doesn’t have to take away from your childhood. If it’s good, you only get better.

Conventional isn’t Always the Right Path

There was only one to whom I ever suggested repeating a grade. I worried and worried about him. He didn’t finish high school in the traditional sense and I always secretly wondered if I had any hand in that. My soul leapt for joy the day he told me he received his GED. We still message each other by the way, and I am so proud of the man he has become! He taught me that conventional doesn’t work for everyone and that while we may take different paths, we can still get there.

A Lesson in Resilience

She began high school this year. In September of our year together, she was diagnosed with cancer. I wasn’t sure what to do except be there. So I was. I sat with her in the hospital. I sat with her at home. When she felt too weak, I backed off a while. We had 3rd grade ‘lessons’. We even had a third grade promotion at the end of the summer. Her parents welcomed me into their home. Thankfully, I had her sister the next year. She was quirky, fun, and loving. She also was living with an older sister who needed more attention than the average child. In spite of that, she devoured every task or assignment we did. She loved learning, school, and her family. Those girls taught me resilience, that circumstances do not define who you are, and that you can find joy anywhere if you are willing to look.

The Lesson of Planning Ahead

He was a natural born entrepreneur. He established a cleaning service out of students in my class and had them working for him. They provided services for other teachers in the school when they asked. They cleaned, he inspected, did marketing, and arranged all schedules. When his cleaning company was at its height, he sold it, and started a new one repairing books from classroom libraries. (He charged our class a form of “cash” which I gave to his customers so they could pay him.) You’ll know him too, someday. I can’t wait to see what he does! He taught me to plan, think ahead, and look towards other’s needs.

The Connection of Humor and Asking For What You Want

One slightly introverted but incredibly witty student left a note on my desk one afternoon. It read: “ I will bring my toothbrush tomorrow! Take me home forever!” True to her word, the next day I found her toothbrush on my desk in a plastic bag. When I told her mom (thinking it was an extra around the house), she informed me that no, this was her actual toothbrush!! She taught me to ask for what I want but to always do it with a lot of humor!

Some days I worry about the future of education. Things seem to be changing so rapidly that no one can keep up anymore. Stress seems more common than laughter; computers more than human connection and conversation. Education, like everything else, must change with the times. In themselves, these changes aren’t all bad, in fact some are incredible. My hope is that through it all the most important thing doesn’t change, our human connection with others.

Want to see more blogs like this and also get notifications on local events and happenings? Subscribe to our free weekly newsletters here.