Today I turn 31, and all of my students know it. Which is against everything I learned in college; keep your work and personal life completely separate.
Anyone who knows me understands that it is not just a birthday, it’s birthday-month. This was quite a shock for my husband during our first year of marriage. When December 1 rolled around I expected the celebrations to begin! I am –not– so happy report that he has gotten me to just celebrate birthday weekend. Now, for someone who loves birthdays so much it was really hard for me not to share this with my students. So I did exactly what my professors told me not to do and told all 150 students of mine that December 10th was my birthday!
I did not expect anything from my students, I just wanted to them to know how excited I was about my birthday. To my surprise, on my 23rd birthday at Southwest Junior High School I walked into my classroom to find chocolates, Diet Dr. Peppers, and flowers waiting for me on my desk. Throughout the day I had more students bring little treats to celebrate me. I was overcome with how amazing my students are. I never told them about my obsession with Diet Dr. Peppers, they just picked up on it (probably the 5 a day I drink helped them out a bit). The students were so well behaved that day and seemed to genuinely enjoy taking the attention off of themselves and looking to the needs of another.
Reflecting back over the years I think it was good for students to see a working, successful adult enjoy their birthday. It is good for students to see adults having fun in a safe and professional way. Last year I turned 30 and rocked a fun 30th birthday t-shirt to school. The students loved how much joy I had with my birthday, and I hope it serves as a reminder that it is okay to still be a kid from time to time.
From that point on I decided that maybe it was okay to let the students in on a little bit of my life. Maybe I did not have to completely shut them out of what life as Mrs. Haden was like. This new idea was confirmed for me 4 years later when I began having health problems. Instead of explaining to my students a little bit of what was going on I thought I should shelter them from it and keep my poker face on every day at work. That was, until the day I went into AFib during class. I collapsed, got hooked up to a defibrillator, and rushed to the hospital. When I returned to work I explained to the students what was going on and how they could best help me if it ever happens again. Fast forward two years and there I was again, convulsing on the floor and my students stepped up in a big way. They called the nurse, cleared the pathway from the door to where I was, propped my head up on a backpack, and held my hand while we waited for help. They did not leave my side until adults had arrived.
All of this to say, students step up when they are asked to in every way, not just academically. As educators, we do not just teach students the standards of our content, but we also teach students how to be decent humans. My students got to witness me showing up every day with a smile on my face ready for work with a positive attitude. They did not just have a teacher tell them to have perseverance, they got to see it first hand because they knew parts of my story. My students get to take the focus and attention off of themselves to celebrate another person for one day a year (or a month if it were up to me). We talk about this generation of student not being as empathetic, kind, compassionate, or respectful; well lets give them the opportunity to learn those attributes and practice them.
Whether or not you choose to tell your students when your birthday is or that you may be having a hard time is completely up to each person. I have always been an open and real person with my students. That is what works for me. What I am trying to say is it is okay to let students know you are just a normal person who has their ups and downs. But that you show up every day to work because you love them and want them to be as successful as possible.