Diary of a First-Year Teacher: ‘Seeing Kids as People Changes the Way You Teach Them’

A 22-year-old educator in rural Mississippi takes us inside the wild world of teaching in this weekly column.

Looking at kids in a new light helps change the way this teacher educates her six year olds. (Photo: Purestock)

Each week, an anonymous first-grade teacher will share her confessions, musings, struggles, and successes during the first year of her teaching career in rural Mississippi.


Six year olds are still people. Granted, they are tiny people, but they are still people. My teaching epiphany this week was that seeing children as people changes the way you teach them.

I’ve always viewed the stages of human development as mutually exclusive. That is, your childhood, adolescence, and adulthood are all these unique moments of life. However, I am realizing there’s more overlap than that in our lives. I had not considered how much of who we are as people shines bright and clear through a six year old. This week I saw that in my kids.

You treat your children radically different, and with more patience, when you think of them as miniature adults who simply need to be taught how to behave in school and how to learn, rather than seeing them as hooligan children driving you up of the wall. Now of course, teaching a six year old the first steps of being a contributing member of society is not a simple thing to do. In fact, it's pretty darn hard.

More: Diary of a First-Year Teacher: An Experiment in Teaching Compassion

However, when you see your children as interesting human beings—with stories, passions, relationships, quirks, pains, and triumphs—teaching them is a lot easier. It is a lot easier to patiently redirect Jakayla from talking during the lesson when you have learned and begun to appreciate that she loves to talk. And instead of snapping at her each time she turns to her neighbor to whisper about the plans for her birthday party, calmly remind her and seek ways to deter her from talking. Call on her more. Allow her to share in a productive way.

I have been trying to figure out one of my students, Tyrone, since he joined my class in September. He is reserved, yet asks many questions. It has been a struggle to get to know him because he is so reserved. I felt like I was failing to find that chord of resonance. But today I saw him more fully as a person. We went on a field trip to see a production of Tom Sawyer and during the set change, I looked over to see shy Tyrone rocking out to the bluegrass interlude music. And I mean rocking out—head banging, hands drumming with invisible drumsticks. The kid was loving it, and suddenly I saw him as more than just a shy and bright kid. I saw him as this incredibly passionate person.

Students want to be known and be heard. They want their existence to be validated. Realizing that and seeing them as people makes discipline so much easier and more meaningful. And of course, class is way more enjoyable.

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