I can’t remember a time when I didn’t want to be a teacher. From a very young age, I admired how teachers interacted with kids and shared their knowledge. I loved the idea of being a vessel of learning and passing that onto future generations. But it was more than just teaching itself that drew me in—it was the fact that some of the kindest people I knew were teachers. And, I noticed that the teachers who lit up the room did so with empathy and by connection to their students and the school community.
There were many women in my life who, early on, led me down the path toward teaching. I grew up with a huge family, and every year, we’d have a reunion. And who were my favorite relatives? All teachers. These were women who would pay special attention to the kids in the room. They wouldn’t leave the kids to their own devices. They’d come into our space and immediately want to interact with the children and organize a game. They’d also take the time to talk to us.
When I was in elementary school, I used to tag along when my mom would get together with her bowling team. One of her teammates took an interest in me. She would always bring something in her purse just for me – something as simple as a pen and a pad of paper to keep me occupied. And guess what? She was a teacher. She took me to her school on “Take Your Child to Work Day,” she showed me how she decorated her classroom, and I saw her grading papers and creating lesson plans.
But more than just observing her daily tasks, she consistently modeled the behaviors she believed in. She lived her life full of humanity, and I saw what an impact that had in her classroom and in how she cared for others, like me.
There is a very personal part to being a teacher that ensures success, and I bring that to my work now. I talk to people as individuals. I build relationships with people as individuals. After teaching hundreds of students and working with hundreds of families over the years, I learned that showing up as a person first is the best way to make an impact. Not everyone wants to be as personable in return, and that’s okay. But when you come into interactions as your genuine self, people tend to want to know you.
At the same time, I know firsthand about the many demands that teachers face every day, and how challenging it can be to build a relationship with all of the students in class. That’s why when I had the opportunity to join Gradient Learning and then to support a tool that offers teachers an easy way to connect with their students, I knew that’s what I wanted to do next. Just think how a classroom can feel if the students in it feel cared for by their teacher.
During Women’s History Month, I am grateful for all of the teachers who helped forge my way as a lifelong educator. I have learned from them that when I let my guard down, others will do the same. When someone feels that you’re cheering for them, they will cheer for you in return. Showing that you care is a doorway to helping the whole child develop and is truly the key to strong relationships, both inside and outside of the classroom.
Jocelyn Kirkland is the Content and Support Specialist at Along. She is a former teacher and teacher coach with extensive experience both inside and outside the classroom, and has a Master’s Degree in Teaching and Curriculum. She currently resides in Los Angeles with her husband and two daughters.