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Love Them Before You Know Them

November 2, 2010

This post was originally published on Pernille Ripp‘s blog: Blogging through the Fourth Dimension. This story means a lot to me. Not only has it changed my teaching, it has also changed me. So, I asked Pernille if I could also share it here.

I can still remember that day as if it were yesterday. It was my first day at a new school and my first year as an elementary teacher. My lifetime dream was coming true. So special was this day that everything around me was inspiring. I could savor every minute, every second there… just thinking of what it would be like, trying to imagine each of my new students, wondering if I would be able to connect with them, if I would be able to get the best from them. It was that day when I heard a teacher say a magical phrase, “The secret for a successful connection with students is loving them before actually meeting them.”  For some reason, that phrase stayed in my mind. I wondered what she had meant by that, I couldn’t actually figure it out, but it just felt special.
When I was assigned my group, I found out that there was a boy in my class, Thomas, who had an average performance, but serious behavior problems. What’s more, he was about to be expelled from school. I was sure there was a reason for his attitude. Little did I know that the reason would break my heart; it turns out that Thomas had been a victim of sexual abuse some years before. I didn’t know that kid, but he was already my favorite student. I talked to the other teachers, but only heard things such as: “I hate that kid,” “Don’t waste your energy on him,” or “It’s a hopeless case.” Needless to say, that was one of the saddest moments in my teaching career. In his record, all I could find were terrible comments and tons of dark, colorless and aggressive drawings he had made… Everything I read, everything I heard, and everything I saw only made me want to help him more and more.
School started and I finally met my class. Thomas didn’t exactly behave well, but it wasn’t as bad as people had pictured it. I tried to connect with him from the very first moment. I would spend time talking with him, making silly jokes and just showing him I cared. Every now and then, I assigned him important roles, so I could show him how much I trusted him. I always remember calling him Tom, instead of Thomas, for the first time.  I can still see his face glowing, when he came to me and whispered: “I had never had a nickname before.”  I would have never imagined that such a small gesture would touch his heart.
I must admit, I was really surprised when he came to me after a couple of months and said he was willing to improve on his behavior. Not only did he try really hard, but he would also ask me at least once a day if his behavior was OK or not. In addition to this, his grades began to improve and his attitude changed. He started to make friends and he was finally able to participate in class, share his stories and speak his mind. Soon after, everyone started calling him Tom. I saw small changes in him almost every day.
I was truly touched one day, when I arrived to my classroom and found a beautiful drawing on my desk. Someone had made a drawing of me with a big pink heart on my chest. I couldn’t believe my eyes when I realized who had drawn it. I couldn’t hold the tears when I found this note on the back: “Miss Greta, I love you. Tom”
As months passed by Tom had become a brand new kid. He didn’t behave perfectly, but his attitude was different. He was passionate about learning and eager to keep making progress. It was just motivating seeing him play with his classmates during break time.  Apart from that, his grades had significantly improved and by the end of the year he was one of the best students in the class.
At the end-of-year ceremony, Tom was given an award for his effort and improvement. While he was receiving the well-deserved certificate, I could see his parents and grandparents looking at him so proudly with tearful eyes. That was my “Aha” moment. It was then that I understood how powerful connecting with our students is. It was then, that I finally understood what the phrase I had heard in the beginning of the school year meant.
This experience has totally changed my outlook on teaching. It made me realize how powerful our job is.  I learned that teaching is more than just following a curriculum. We get to touch people’s hearts; we get this unique opportunity of making someone’s life different by giving them tools to be better, by teaching them to believe in themselves and by showing them they are special and unique. It’s by showing them we care that we’ll get to do the most. It’s by loving them that we’ll be able to make them flourish.
34 Comments leave one →
  1. m_yam permalink
    November 3, 2010 4:28 am

    What a change you’ve made in him! How happy he must have been when he knew he’d found he had someone to care him!

    “Love them before you know them” – this might be tough sometimes, but it’s now one of my favorite mottos. Thanks Greta, you’re always so inspiring!!

    • November 3, 2010 9:20 am

      Thanks so much Mari. He changed so much. I ran into him quite a lot, and he always tells me how well he’s doing, he has even asked me for advice a couple of times…
      So glad “love them before you know them” is one of your favorite mottos now… You’ll see how great it is. You’ll be able to make better connections with your students. Thanks again for your support and kind words!

  2. Rachel Ward permalink
    November 4, 2010 9:33 pm

    How wonderful is that! You were a great impact in that boy’s life. I’m sure he remembers it and is thankful for you.

    You don’t always know what a child’s life is like outside of school. That is one reason I’m so excited to become a teacher. I cannot wait to be able to learn about the students I will have, love them, and be able to help them to the best of my abilities. I’m sure it’s incredibly rewarding.

    • November 5, 2010 9:29 am

      Thanks Rachel! I run into him every now and then, and he always tells me how well he is doing and he has even asked me for advice before getting into trouble a couple of times. What’s more, he told me people always call him Tom now, a while ago. He’s such a special kid.

      It’s so rewarding, you’ll see how much you enjoy it. It’s so important to spend time trying to get to know your students. It makes such a difference. Kids need us, like you said we don’t know what a kid’s life is outside of school… I’m sure you’ll be a great teacher. Thanks again Rachel!

  3. November 5, 2010 12:46 am

    Can I just make a small suggestion to anyone reading this blog – pop over to view the comments on Greta’s original post – you’ll see what a empathetic, loving, nurturing bunch of teachers there are out there!

    Greta, I’m so pleased that you ‘grasped the nettle’ and started blogging and telling us your story. You’re a natural-born teacher and this post shows you’re so in tune with the needs of your children.

    One or two of my Sri Lankan teachers have access to the Internet and I’m keen to show them how to take responsibility for their own professional development or personal enrichment. It might not sound much but I show them Twitter, Blogs and Google Reader. I like to show them what I think will open their eyes to the world and inspire them or touch them, and I’ll give them four or five blogs to get started. Of course, yours is one of them 🙂

    • November 5, 2010 10:10 am

      Aww Clive, thanks so much! You have so much to do with this blog. Your support and encouragement have made such a difference for me. If it hadn’t been for you, I wouldn’t be blogging now.
      Twitter, Blogs and Google Reader are great tools… and they’ll eventually lead them to other tools and resources!
      Thanks for your kind words about me and my blog. I’m so honored! Love having you in my PLN!

  4. November 6, 2010 11:39 am

    Hi Greta,

    This is such a powerful and influential post. Thanks for sharing. I still have a few teardrops on my cheeks. I do wish all Toms could have teachers like Miss Greta 🙂
    Itis difficult to understand a teacher who calls a kid a hopless case and I believe the elementary year teachers have magic wands in their hands and they can create wonders.

    • November 7, 2010 5:20 pm

      Thanks so much Eva! I couldn’t agree more: “elementary year teachers have magic wands in their hands and they can create wonders” We should never forget that…
      I get really upset every time a teacher doesn’t realize the difference she/he can make for a kid. Our responsibility as teachers is to reach out for each of our students. Isn’t this amazing? Our job is such a blessing!

  5. November 8, 2010 12:15 am

    This is such a powerful post that I think all future teachers should read. I believe that many teachers forget that they are there to make a difference in a child’s life and not just to teach them. “Loving them before actually meeting them” is the best piece of advice a new teacher could ever receive. I wish that I could share this post with the rest of my class because I believe it is one of the most important things a new teacher should learn.
    Thank you so much for sharing this story and I am so glad I was able to read you r blog post. You are a really inspiring individual.
    Tierra Dinkins

    • November 9, 2010 10:38 pm

      Thank you so much Tierra! I agree with what you said, we should never forget that we are here to make a difference on our students’ lives. Glad you found my post inspiring and helpful. Loving our students before meeting them is something every teacher so focus on. Please feel free to share my post. I’d be honored.
      Thanks again for your kind words!

  6. November 8, 2010 1:58 am

    What a great story!!! I am a student at the University of South Alabama in Mobile, Alabama and its nice to hear a positive story. Students and teachers need to hear positive stories and happy endings. I know that it is not typical and the norm for every story to end great but everyone needs hope that it is possible.
    Thank you for sharing this story.

    • November 9, 2010 11:05 pm

      Thank you so much Shellie! I decided to share this story because it has truly changed me and my life. Thanks to Tom I realized how powerful our job is. There are many stories out there, positive and negative, it’s important to share them. We get to learn a lot from other teachers’ experiences. I agree with what you said “everyone needs hope that it is possible”
      Thanks again Shellie. =)

  7. November 12, 2010 12:11 pm

    This is a beautiful story, and all the comments echo the love and empathy you showed to Tom. Putting the picture with the big pink heart that he drew at the end of the post just signs it off perfectly. Inspirational.

    • November 12, 2010 11:26 pm

      Thanks so much David! I really appreciate your words. This story means so much to me. It has changed me in so many ways. I’m glad you liked it. Thanks again!

  8. August 17, 2011 6:49 pm

    This isn’t the first time I read this wonderful story, but still it always strikes a chord with me. I came back to it today because I remembered asking you recently if you had any recipes you could share with me (thinking of food) and you answered with, ‘Love them before you know them.’ That is truly a wonderful recipe for success in a child’s life. You are such a warm person, kids like Tom need someone exactly like you. Anyway, thank you again for sharing this…it’s a must read before returning to school.

    You rock!

    • August 22, 2011 9:07 pm

      Hey Matt, thanks for your words! I come back to this story all the time. It means so much to me in so many ways… I am so lucky I get to see Tom almost every day at school. He comes to visit me and my class all the time. He is a teen now. He has changed and achieved so much! Seeing him makes me feel more and more convinced of how powerful our job is. I have made a difference for him, but he has also made a difference for me. I wish every teacher in the world would stop labeling students and give every kid a chance 😉 (for your post) Thanks again!

  9. August 17, 2011 9:02 pm


    Isn’t it amazing how some teachers can reach the children that others write off? This is a wonderful success story. Tom was and is so lucky to have you in his life. I know that your impact on him will remain with him always and I know that his impact on you wll remain with you always.


    • August 22, 2011 9:11 pm

      Hi Gail! I miss you! So glad to read your comment! Thanks so much for your words. It means so much coming from you! Couldn’t agree more with what you said about the impact on me. It’s so powerful. I am a better teacher thanks to him. Thanks again!

  10. October 8, 2011 3:22 pm


    It was really great of you to put so much trust on a child on whom everybody had given hope. Hope more students get teachers like you and you also are a role model for every teacher… I also had an “Aha” moment when I trusted my batchmate whom everybody had given up but I gave a chance to him and he was changed.

    Simply wonderful of you…

    • October 10, 2011 9:55 pm

      Wow GG! Thank you so much for your words. Tom’s story means a lot to me.

  11. October 8, 2011 3:41 pm

    You have just made me cry. I am trying hard to do this with some highschools. It’s very difficult to reach to them than that is the case maybe with younger learners, but your post made me not to give up. I have assigned some of my students with bad behaviour to my project classroom, and I hope, just hope they improve on their behaviour, as they are very smart kids. Thanks Greta, congrats on your work! Marijana, Croatia

    • October 10, 2011 9:57 pm

      Aww, thank you so much Marijana! Don’t give up, sometimes we might think we’re not reaching a kid, but we so are… Thank you for sharing your story with me. Please let me know if I can be of any help! 🙂

  12. December 18, 2011 3:55 am

    Excellent post. As everyone has noted previous to me, the quote is excellent. I will definitely remember and live to this quote for ever. When times get tough, which I know they will, I have this blog post bookmarked to remind me. I look forward to reading more. Thanks again.

  13. October 17, 2013 12:32 am

    This is a very touching post. Indeed, as teachers we encounter different kinds of students, some loveable while some are not. We don’t get to choose our students so we need to inspire them and make them into better individuals. Cheers!


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