Thinking critically about the phrase “my students”

The other day I caught myself thinking about the phrase “my students.”

We say it all the time. I quizzed my students twice last week. My students and I are going on a field trip. A few of my students always seem to come late to class. It’s ordinary and plain. We don’t even think twice about it. But this time I did.

Spurred by seeing former students in the hallway, who have a new math teacher this year, coupled with the fact that I now have 100 new students myself, the possessive pronoun “my” stood out to me.

These students are mine. Not literally, of course. But these young people who were once strangers are no longer distinct from me. Our paths have crossed and I am now responsible for them. In the spirit of knowledge and personal growth, they are bound to me. They always will be. We will both change as a direct result of our transactions — both mathematically and otherwise — and this is worth thinking about.

Being critical about this possessiveness is empowering. For me, it represents an extension of myself through my students. Who I am as a teacher — and as a person — will be duly represented in what we build together. This is weighty. I can ignore it, but I cannot escape the relational ownership I’ve inherited when they walked into my classroom. Whether I like it or not, who I am will be reflected in our shared successes and failures. They are me.

As their teacher, to think about this gives me great pride. But it also affects me when it comes to non-teaching matters like how I speak to them, think about them, and work to relate to them. It has everything to do with teaching and nothing to do with teaching. Rethinking the word “my” when it comes to the students I teach contributes to a greater, more attentive investment in them and myself. It draws me closer.

 

bp

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