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!