Teaching is just as much about relationships with your students as it is about imparting knowledge. Over the years, I have come to not only learn this, but embrace it. Things I used to stress over in the classroom don’t have the grip on me that they used to. I now understand I don’t have control over every situation and every behavior, which for a self-admitted control freak, has been a difficult reality to face. However, I do my best to treat my students with kindness and respect, so when a situation arises when a student cannot return that courtesy to me, it hurts, because maintaining such a relationship sometimes feels as if it’s the most important thing you have to offer, given all the challenges young people face today.
Recently, I had been having some fairly minor behavior problems (relatively speaking) with two of my students, both of whom I sincerely like and care about. On one particular day, out of nowhere, an exchange between me and one of these students quickly escalated into a scene the entire class witnessed, where this student turned on me so abruptly, so harshly, I was unprepared. Although I tried to maintain a calm and professional façade, on the inside, I was raging. But more so, I was hurt. How dare he speak to me like that? I thought. When all I have ever done is treat him with kindness?
I had a conversation with a fellow teacher in which we shared the need to escape the classroom at times such as these, because we aren’t given the luxury of a breakdown in front of our students. I’m not sure if that’s a good thing or a bad thing, because trying to maintain that sense of detachment, in many ways, perpetuates students’ impressions that teachers aren’t people with feelings. At any rate, I did have to slip into the hallway to shed a few tears and regain my composure.
I was mortified when the other student came into the hallway to ask me a question, and caught me. It was an awful wrap-up to an awful scenario, which left me in a foul mood the rest of the day. A couple of cocktails were most definitely required once I got home.
However, the following day was its polar opposite. The girl, who had witnessed me in a most vulnerable moment the day before, handed me a beautiful apology note. She wasn’t directly involved with the blowup that had occurred, but she had the maturity and sensitivity to recognize that she, too, had been disagreeable for reasons that didn’t involve me. I was so touched, and so very proud of her. It may not have seemed like a big deal to her, but it was to me, and I will keep that note as a reminder that we never really know another person’s thoughts or intentions. And though I didn’t receive a formal acknowledgment of what happened from the boy, he expressed what, I believe, was an apology in his own unique way. I think we’re good with each other again.
We hear it often, how a person’s negative behavior toward us isn’t about us at all. Not all the time, but sometimes. We all do and say things we regret. We all have bad days and lash out when we shouldn’t. That’s where the thick skin comes in handy. Yes, it’s easier said than done, and I’m not sure I’ll ever fully develop that thick skin. Yet, this experience was an important reminder to me that, despite how well he or she hides it, there exists a reflective, empathetic side in this person we call a teenager. :)