Teaching Is About Relationships First
by Meghan Borgwardt, 4th/5th grade STEM teacher at Rocketship Southside Community Prep
For as long as I can remember, I have wanted to be a teacher. There’s nothing else I ever wanted to do. I actually grew up with educators in my family. My aunt was a special education teacher, and I remember being in her classroom over the summers pretending to teach a class using her overhead projector and transparencies I would print out for my “lessons.”
However, my 8th grade math teacher is my biggest inspiration for entering the profession. She knew that students come first, and academics come second. She was able to create one of the most engaging classroom environments I have ever been in because she took the time to build deep, meaningful relationships with me and each one of my classmates.
And now I get to do the same. I have been at Rocketship Southside Community Prep for 8 years, teaching kids from mostly low-income backgrounds, most of whom are English language learners. In my first year of teaching, I had a kindergartener named Edwin, who I will never forget. He was just starting his first year of school ever that year. Edwin was struggling to grasp concepts like sight words, and it took a lot of effort to get him to want to learn and perform. But I remembered the wisdom of my 8th grade math teacher, and I took the time to build a relationship with Edwin so he would feel deeply invested in engaging with the content. As the year progressed, he became better at reading and started to grow a love for school. To this day, I have a picture of him on my desk where he is sitting down with a book, reading with one of his older first grade classmates. I look at it all the time.
One of the coolest things about being at the same school for so many years is the ability to see firsthand how my students are growing, as well as having multiple opportunities to teach the same students at different times in different grade levels. This year, I am teaching a class of 5th graders who were the same kindergartners I taught in my first year of teaching, including Edwin. Today, Edwin is one of the most participatory students I have in my classroom, and he’s achieving at the highest levels. In fact, my entire class is growing at extraordinary levels – with my fifth graders on track to grow 1.76 years in just one school year and 61% of my students meeting their growth goals overall. As an educator, nothing is better than watching my Rocketeers grow and learn to love learning.
To my fellow educators, I leave you with this: putting relationships first in the classroom will make instruction fun and engaging for your students. Academics are important, but the human element will allow you and your students to reach the heights of achievement. Let’s put it this way – for us adults, it’s difficult to enter a professional development or coaching session with someone who doesn’t know you and with whom you don’t have a connection. The same goes for our students. Once strong relationships are built, students can do anything, and there are no limitations to what they can accomplish. I credit who I am as a teacher to my 8th grade math teacher. She is the type of educator I want to be for my Rocketeers.
I cherish the deep relationships I have built with my current and forever Rocketeers. I like to tell my Rocketeers that our class is like a map – we need each other to pass different checkpoints and when a student is missing or absent, we are not able to get to our final destination. My students want to be at school because they know that if they are there each day, we are getting even closer to where we want to go.
Ms. Borgwardt has been a Rocketeer since 2016 and a teacher at Rocketship Southside Community Prep since 2018.
Published on January 26, 2024