Love Your Kids. And Then Love Them Some More.

By Layla Abdelhak

I’ve been told since childhood that if you choose to do what you love, then you’ll never have to work a day in your life. There is truth to that, a lot of truth. However, I have come to find an alternate meaning to that truth– it’s not necessarily about loving what you do, but it’s about loving the people you do it for. 

A career in the field of education is not always as Pinterest-perfect as it may seem on the surface. I’m sure almost every educator can relate to the fact that, no matter how long you’ve been in the field, there will be days every so often that are simply tough. My teaching philosophy does not center around the tough times, nor does it center around the ideas or opinions about teaching that others may have. 

The approach I have when it comes to being an educator is simple: children respond to love. Teaching, as a practice and as a skill, can look and present itself in a multitude of ways; it’s the person you choose to be while carrying out those skills that truly makes the experience worthwhile. Loving the work we do and being perfect at it isn’t really the endgame for most educators, but showing love towards the students and families you do it for, that is what it’s really all about.

As a consequence of my environment and the circumstances I faced as a child, school presented challenges for me at times. Not so much the academic side of it, but more so the social side of it. In my household, I was surrounded by nothing but love, though my family’s socio-economic and immigration status posed the potential to have the opposite effect. However, I found myself being envious of my classmates who were car riders, bought toys at the book fair, had the polo shirts from the most expensive stores, packed extravagant lunches, and whose parents were available to come to every concert or sports game. I wasn’t always offered a classroom environment where those things didn’t matter. The reality at times was the inverse– who you are, where your family comes from, and the clothes you wear did matter.

That’s what inspires me to be the educator I am today. I learned to value the concept of hard work and perseverance as I made my way through college, applying for every scholarship under the sun and working on campus to help pay my way. By a chance encounter, I came across the Next Generation Hoosier Educators scholarship, which provided me with enough financial aid to pay my tuition through school in order to acquire my teaching license. I happily agreed to teach in Indiana for a few years after graduation, considering it’s the place I’ve always considered home. I was over the moon for the opportunity to remain in the community where I grew up by finding a position at Paramount Schools of Excellence. I realized my dream to work in an environment where I could make an impact in the lives of children who came from a similar background as myself. I knew that in this role I could create a space for them to show up, be themselves, make mistakes, be free from judgment, and most of all, belong.

Our job as educators is not to have the nicest classroom, the best lesson plan ideas and outfits, or the most recognition; our job as educators is to allow our students to connect with, engage with, respect, love, and accept, not only each other, but themselves. Although being a teacher is a job that requires a certain level of professionalism just like any other, it is unique in the sense that allowing your heart to play a role in your work is what makes you stand out to your students. 

When I reflect on what motivates me most in the classroom, I am undoubtedly inspired by seeing my students develop confidence in themselves. Whether that confidence comes from successfully solving a complex math problem, making a new friend on the playground, or from answering questions in class, we should take every possible moment in our days to make our kids feel good about themselves. 

This requires no extra cost and no extra planning. Have them whisper self-affirmations before tests, have them praise their classmates for contributing in class discussions, and have them encourage one another to succeed. Eventually, these small rituals become foundational habits, which, in turn, formulate pieces of their personality.

When it comes down to it, students most likely won’t remember what your classroom looked like, all the lessons you taught, or the mistakes you made. What they will remember for years to come is the way you treated them and how you made them feel. 

Don’t be afraid to pour pieces of yourself into your classroom. Don’t be afraid to shower your students with hugs and words of affirmation. Don’t be afraid to be silly and make them laugh, or to show them compassion. For some, you may be the only person in their life to make them feel that way. Above all, no matter the grade you’re teaching or the community you’re teaching in, love your kids. And then love them some more.

Layla Abdelhak is a Fifth Grade Teacher at Paramount School of Excellence- Brookside.

Layla is a 21st Century Scholar and the recipient of the Next Generation Hoosier Educators Scholarship and the William A Crawford Minority Teacher Scholarship. Learn more about these educator scholarships and additional opportunities through the Indiana Commission of Higher Education.