I just had the worst day of my school year. Maybe even the worst day in five school years. Without getting into details, I can say that one of my students used tech tools to bully a classmate and smear my name. It was nasty and, when I discovered it, my blood boiled.
Now, several hours after the parent phone call/administrator sit-down/student discipline maelstrom has passed, my blood pressure is beginning to taper to its normal pre-hypertensive levels and I’m left with some thoughts about this ugliness:
1. It’s not personal. Yes, it feels so personal. This kid hurt a classmate and added my name to his filth. This is personal. And yet… Thumbing through this kid’s middle school records revealed a long history of immature and wretched actions. This episode was alarming to me, yet it’s apparently ordinary (perhaps even funny?) to him.
2. This is a teachable moment for the kid – and for me. Growth happens when we’re uncomfortable. I know this from my (long gone) days as a runner; sore muscles will grow stronger as they heal. While I would’ve preferred not to have this student behave so poorly in the first place, this is a prime opportunity to teach him about the consequences of thoughtlessness. For me, it’s an opportunity to test my professionalism and find a way to rebuild a broken relationship. How can I let go of my grudge against him? Hurt feelings aside, I am his teacher, and my lessons (like it or not) stretch beyond reading and writing. I want to be a role model, showing my kids an adult who has passion for her work and compassion in her heart. So I will be the bigger person, even though I really, really dislike him right now. I’ll get over it. In fact, I’m already thinking about a couple of horribly stupid things I did when I was 14 years old.
3. The power of friends. Three trusted colleagues in my hallway and a favorite administrator helped me see the absurdity of this situation. At first, I was going to keep everything to myself, no sense in bumming out everyone else. But my friends saw my face this afternoon and just knew. It didn’t take much for me to spill the whole story. As it turns out, tension’s bubbling in their teacher worlds, too, from the frustration of trying to motivate the unmotivated to grieving a drugs-and-weapons arrest of a former student spotted in the news. These “me, too” stories brought a surprising amount of comfort. Misery + Company and all of that.
4. Kids can be smart and dumb, all at the same time. I’m dealing with a straight-A student who has zero common sense. (Come to think of it, I know a couple of adults like this.)
5. Time helps. The first version of this blog post that I hammered out was cathartic, but raw. I went for a walk, had dinner with the family, and then deleted everything to start again. Good life rule: Never blog (or email, or text) angry.
6. Life keeps moving forward. I was in the midst of my teaching day this morning when I discovered the most heinous parts of this boy’s online behavior. I had three minutes to process what I was seeing before my next class arrived. They knew nothing about what was happening and I calmly started class, all business-as-usual while an anger-ball pulsed in my brain. And that’s the thing – life keeps rolling. As the leader of the class, I needed to set aside emotion and give this next group of kids my full attention, so I did the best I could. (Though I did have an out-of-body moment where I saw myself auto-pilot teaching while I strategized how to squeeze a confession from the offender. I’ve had this same I’m-here-but-not-here sensation before when proctoring state tests. Weird, right?)
Ultimately, I will not forget what he did, but I will forgive and rebuild. And because I’m an English teacher nerd, I keep hearing the voice of Mama Younger from A Raisin in the Sun as she scolds Beneatha:
Alright, Walter Lee, let’s pick you up off the floor. We gotta house to fix.
Teach on, everyone!
15 thoughts on “A No-Good, Lousy, Plain Awful Day”
Brilliant reflection, Laura! We have all had moments in our career, much to our chagrin, that force us to push our “teacher” self to the front and our “human” self to the back. I believe these events truly help a new generation of kids to learn compassion and forgiveness. This is the moment that will forever change you and your students, much more than a great discussion about commas (sadly, because I love comma rules). 🙂 I always tell my students that their English class has the most transferable skills of any subject. This is a great experience and lesson in universal themes! Much love to you 🙂 Tanya Sanchez
Thanks, Tanya, for taking the time to read my ramblings and to send along your comment – it means a lot. When people ask us what we teach, maybe we shouldn’t say, “English.” Maybe “humanity” or “compassion” or even just “manners” would be more accurate answers, eh? Tomorrow will be a better day…tomorrow will be a better day…
Thank you…I needed this too. It’s hard to not take it personal especially when it’s against you.
Sorry you had to have this experience. I’ve had a few of those days, myself. I love your reflection! I will have to keep this post handy for the future. I hope tomorrow is a better day…
Tomorrow *will* be a better day! 🙂
Yup, Sarah. Incredibly hard.
Thanks, Jamie and Stacey. I’ve now had some sleep and some coffee, so (ready or not!) here comes Tuesday…
I am so sorry Laura. It’s so difficult not to perceive this as personal. Hang in there and know that this will all work itself out.
Mimi, thanks so much. I also enjoyed talking with you yesterday. Looks like we were both in the eye of the storm, eh? 😉
((HUGS)) to you, Laura! This will get better, and you will make it through this. I think the student was lucky that you were the teacher involved because you seem to be one of those teachers that kids adore. He *is* just a kid, and his brain isn’t yet fully grown. After it has developed, he will realize what a tool he was and will appreciate what he learned from you. Unfortunately, it will be years down the road when that light bulb finally does go off. Meanwhile, thank you for your insight. We ALL have been there, and tomorrow WILL be a better day! 🙂
That’s right, Michelle. His brain’s not done forming yet – and he is a young 14 at that, if you know what I mean. Thanks for your note. It helps!
Laura, I have never met you in person but often feel your excitement and passion for education via your lessons and blog posts. Situations such as these are the ones that test our ability to sustain and show that we are survivors of an often overlooked and disrespected career. Forgiveness and the ability to move forward is vital in order to survive in any educational setting. Every teacher can say they have experienced days that have brought them to their lowest point, but on the contrary, your experience serves as a teachable lesson for all teachers, administrators, and students to follow. Thank you for being transparent and willing to share this experience with your followers.
Wise words, A. Whaley. I actually wasn’t going to even mention this incident on the blog, but after hearing about the struggles of my friends in the hall I realized this is something we’re all facing, to one degree or another. Teaching can feel so isolating at times; even with my department of 12, I sometimes feel like an island. This week has reminded me that support is there, but we just need to seek it out. (And today *was* a better day.)
“Growth happens when we’re uncomfortable. I know this from my (long gone) days as a runner; sore muscles will grow stronger as they heal.” -Thanks! I needed to “hear” that today! 🙂
My pleasure, swtspontaneous. Glad this spoke to you.