Saturday, January 24, 2015

I Will Ask You About You

Post by Katie Hansen: Katie is in her 14thyear of teaching biology, the last 10 years at Bettendorf High School. She advises student council and coaches boy’s golf. You can follow Katie on twitter @katiejoyk

This past fall my family and hometown community suddenly lost a true friend, Mortonite, and fellow teacher. Joal was a 3rd grade teacher and the varsity boys tennis coach in Morton, IL. As news of his tragic death spread, I read all the social media posts, watched the TV broadcasts online, followed the community news, and attended his visitation and funeral. The ripple effect of his influence was astounding.  Story upon story was posted of his impact not only on his 3rd grade students, but overflowing to their families, his tennis players, and the community as a whole.

I thought as I read the comments pouring in…Not a single student, tennis player, parent, or fellow colleague commented on how Joal taught multiplication, how he demonstrated his jump serve, or how he presented standardized test data to the staff. The stories were about Joal’s impact on his students and players. How he went out of his way to make them feel important, how he always looked for ways to include everyone, and how he showed his fun-loving personality by making his classroom his own.

With each story that was posted, I reflected on what students really love in a teacher. I don’t think it’s any different in the 3rd grade than in the 12th grade. The qualities that teachers want in their students are the same qualities that students want in their teachers: being personable, being respectful, showing a sense of humor, smiling, and most importantly, giving love.

Kids desire to know and be known. We probably focus too much on the former. The ever growing to-do list of grading papers, making copies, setting up for a lab, rewriting a test, attending meetings, and updating websites seem to consume our focus. Reading Joal’s stories reminded me to redirect my focus.

When I get fired up in class, and I see my students are missing the big picture of school, I have a speech that just seems to pour out. I don’t remember how it developed for the first time, but it was so natural that I’ve shared it many times since. Here is what I tell them:

 “Hey, if I see you in Hy-Vee ten years from now, I won’t quiz you about the function of the mitochondria or the phases of mitosis. I didn't become a high school biology teacher because I love biology. Sure, I find it interesting, but biology is my vehicle for teaching you how to better yourself. In my class, I hope you learn something about YOU. I hope you learn how to be responsible, how to study, how to problem solve, or how to work with a group of people who aren't your best friends. I hope something piques your interest enough to Google it on your iPad just because you are curious. I want to see you open up and become more confident. I want you to wonder why. I want you to think! So, if I have bugged you about a missing assignment, or I want you to stay after class to chat I am only doing this to help YOU. I want to watch you graduate from BHS and move on to succeed elsewhere. That’s what I hope you really learn in my biology class. So, if I see you at Hy-Vee in ten years, I will not ask you about mitochondria or mitosis, but I will ask you about YOU.”

(By the way, the mitochondria provide energy for the cell and the phases of mitosis are prophase, metaphase, anaphase, and telophase.)

This speech seems to make an appearance each semester and when it does my voice usually quivers partway through it. That quiver reinforces my desire to be in a classroom full of students. It reminds me to focus away from the to-do list and back to them. I pray I always have that quiver.

It’s not about the perfect lesson plan, the creative bulletin board, or the updated grade book. 

Thanks for reminding me of that, Joal.  


  1. Really enjoyed reading your post. I would love to be in your classroom on the day that you deliver this message. There are so many great "life lessons" there. Keep up the great job of showing kids you care, for getting so involved in extracurricular activities, and for being such a positive role model for the students at BHS.

  2. Wonderful reminder. I love getting that quiver in my voice, too.

  3. Where is the like button? Very relatable, heartfelt post.

  4. I found your thoughts about this colleague to be extremely compelling, but even more so it caused me to ponder your statement, "Kids desire to know and be known." This is amazingly simply and incredibly true.

    Students being known is something that is at the heart of great teaching, and it is something that we can gloss over too much in an effort to make sure they know all of the things we want to teach them. Especially in this era of "personalization", we are really struggling to understand the "person" within our structures. But it is this aspect of wanting to be known and treated as a person that the true power of connecting with kids lies.

    I hope you never stop doing this. Thank you for serving these children, and thank you for this wonderful post.

    P.S. This comment is a part of the #C4C15 project. Find out more here: