As teachers, we often underestimate how students will react to the things we say or do. I have been surprised many times over the years when former students make comments such as, "I remember you always said -----", or "I will never forget that time you told me ----". And sometimes, the students we think we might not be reaching at all are the ones who remember us the most.
I have a class that is small, but quite loud. One of the students, who punctuates everything she says with a little scream, and is not ever afraid to express her opinion, regularly calls me her second mom. I can count on a daily hug from her as she passes my door. We played Kahoot in class the other day, and this student didn't have her Chromebook (we are a 1:1 Chromebook school). Not wanting her to miss out, I lent her my phone on which to play the game. At the end of class, as she handed her phone back to me, she showed me with delight all the pictures she had secretly taken of me, in addition to several selfies of herself. At least it was on my own phone, not hers, so I know she couldn't actually post them anywhere. I don't have to guess with this student - I know we have a connection, and it helps to keep her engaged in class.
In a not-so-clear cut example,a few years ago I had a class made up of half very vocal and half very shy students. One of the quieter, shy ones always started every assignment 20 minutes later than everyone else. He always appeared to be in his own world, and I didn't think he was listening when I spoke. I wanted to light a fire under him to show what I knew he knew. In fact, all of his teachers were worried about his lack of engagement and low work output.
At the beginning of the school year, I had tried something new; I showed a slideshow explaining the class guidelines, and I added a slide that said "I believe in you: you are a good person, you are appreciated, you are part of this community". I told each class that as corny as it sounded, it was true. They half-smiled at me, not really seeming to believe it.
The quiet and shy student who was disengaged had an emotional crisis that year. Shockingly, he named me as an adult in the building he would feel comfortable speaking to. I don't know if my corny "I believe in you" slide had anything at all to do with this, but something had made him feel at ease in my class.
We never really know what our students are taking in and how our words or actions influence them. We can only hope that we are that "go to" adult for some students, or that classroom where they feel like they can let out their breath and be themselves. In my school district, teachers work hard at making those connections with kids, and I would wager that most kids feel "seen". In fact, one teacher who had my son and daughter in two different classes expressly makes it one of her goals to make sure her students are "seen".
I had a few teachers who "saw" me - whether they knew it at the time or not, I don't know. I see them once in a while for coffee, and I tell them, lest they didn't know a the time, what a huge influence they had on me when I was a high school student.
Sometimes the connections teachers and students make are obvious. At other times, we have to have faith that, where the connection is not so clear, the impact we have will still be long lasting. We all have that power as teachers.