My name is Ethan and I’m in the 8th grade.
Today I want to talk about some really positive improvements I’ve experienced in school. When teachers create a positive—emotionally safe classroom—I see that I learn best: this is the optimal learning environment for students. Emotions have an impact on learning. When I’m in an emotionally safe classroom I’m better at processing information and I have more openness to understanding what’s being taught. Communication is an essential piece of this successful environment. Teachers have to communicate with students to be able to achieve an emotionally safe environment. They need to be willing to ask a student, what is it you’re feeling? And then to act on what they hear. And students need to feel safe in expressing what we need. Emotional safety + teacher/student communication lead to positive relationships, which influence my ability to process information and to accurately understand the subject matter.
A lot has changed for the better for me in school since I’ve moved to Massachusetts. The teachers at my school tend to be a lot more understanding and active. When I say that, here’s what I mean: One of my teachers, I’ll call her Ms. Sylvia—she’s my favorite teacher so far. She’s amazing at getting her point across. She’s sensitive to other people’s feelings and emotions. Whenever she hears something that she knows she might need to pay attention to, she’ll keep that in mind. She thinks about who I am, and what I need, and she plans accordingly. The way Ms Sylvia presents herself and communicates creates sort of an aura of kindness, it’s nothing like intimidation or fear tactics. It’s, “let’s communicate, I’ll help you learn.” And it’s so relieving to have someone who can create that kind of environment rather than relying on an individual’s fear, or on intimidation.
I have sensory issues when it comes to my hearing, and I have different methods of learning and processing information. When teachers know this and act on this, it allows me to be really engaged in learning, and to reach my full potential. Ms Sylvia sees what I need, so she put me in the front of the room, away from the louder kids in the back so I could hear her and hopefully help me if I was getting a bit overstimulated. My math teacher—I’ll call him Mr Boston—is amazing at understanding students, putting them where they need to be by communicating. And he does a good job at teaching along with all the behavioral stuff. Ms. Applegate is the assistant in my math class, and whenever she sees me getting over-stimulated (because the kids tend to get more rowdy in that class because no one likes math in our school), she says, “Ethan, go take a walk, please.” She immediately knows. And it’s such a small detail and yet she pinpoints it and it makes me feel so happy! And the evidence is there too! It really did help improve my grades. This is the first time in years that I ‘ve gotten an A in math.
Compared to my old experiences—which were highly stressful, feeling like I was always being scrutinized— it’s just so relieving, my new teachers know what’s happening really quickly. Of course, they didn’t get it right away. They asked me what was going on. I told them. And they’re like, “Oh, okay.” And then they get it! Sure, they still make mistakes every now and then, like everyone does. But they do get it. And that makes the actual substance— what I’m learning—more enjoyable.
And now, I want to talk about the library – it’s a safe, welcoming alternative for me to recess. Me and my friend get a pass from the librarian early in the day so we can skip recess—so we can, instead of going to recess, go to the library. And it’s really nice and quiet. It’s a rejuvenation halfway through the day. Sometimes I’ll bring my art supplies so I can do a little drawing. Other times I’ll just sit down and read a book or have a chat with my friend or the librarian because the librarians always seem to have the best conversation topics! It’s amazing. The librarian is a very nice person and does her job while also making the students feel safe in the library.
I speak from my own positive experiences when I say all students are better able to succeed when they feel emotionally safe, when there’s meaningful communication with the teachers and they can form the positive relationships which this safety and communication bring about. Post-Covid shut down, when we returned to the building, the school didn’t really adapt to the various and different needs students had—it was a one size fits all return. To assume this would work for students across the board, and not to offer a more tailored approach, has left some students really struggling. Not everyone has had the positive experiences I’ve had. Increasing funding for Safe and Supportive Schools will help make sure that more students have access to the kind of positive teacher relationships I’ve been lucky to have this year—and now that’s more important than ever.