There was this moment yesterday when I caught myself scolding some students for playing the dot game wrong. (You know, that game where you try to connect dots on a piece of paper into squares, whoever finishes the square gets to claim it?) Some of my students had not understood my explanation and had incorporated rock-paper-scissors into the game play.
“What are you doing?! No!” I yelled when I found out.
And then I had to turn and ask myself the same question.
What in the world was I doing?
There are some days where I just feel off. As a person, as a teacher, and especially as a role model.
Recently there have been many such moments: The dot game explosion; a conflict between two students I epically failed to mediate (all three of us returning to the classroom more angry and bitter than when we had left); two tardy students to whom I was harsh throughout class who ended up calling themselves stupid; a boy I accusingly commanded not to lie who I found out was actually telling the truth.
So many mistakes, so many regrets. So many failures and moments I fell short.
Sometimes that’s all I can see.
I had this crazy realization last night, though.
Besides the one I always end up having about my weaknesses and insufficiencies pointing me to the One I need. I had that realization, too, earlier. But late last night, as I was lying in bed about to drift off to sleep, I realized something else.
My current classes are all going really, really well.
My oldest students have been opening up to me, sharing their fears and hopes with me. The slightly younger ones have been taking their studies more seriously and learning to master the tricky vocabulary tests I give them. I’ve been having more fun lately with my newer class that was really quiet at first. But not only that, even my youngest, most rambunctious class, the one I exploded at for their misinterpretation of the dot game, the one I regularly use tones of exasperation with that I probably really shouldn’t, is doing remarkably well. They generally seem to have lots of fun together, and they don’t seem averse to me either.
It was a twofold revelation about this particular class.
1. They are all actually very respectful kids.
(That has definitely not been the case in other classes I’ve taught.) Some of them are incredibly loud, rambunctious, ridiculous, and/or oblivious. But all of them are deferential towards me as their teacher (when I finally get their attention). That is no small thing.
2. None of them seem deeply distressed when I explode at them.
Which tells me that I must have built a certain amount of trust with them. I must, in my better moments, exhibit and love, care, and understanding that makes them feel secure. I realized that I’m not always a bad teacher. I probably laugh and smile a lot more than I yell. Probably.
So my huge epiphany was that I’m actually really thankful. Thankful for my current students. Thankful for the relationships that we’ve built. Thankful for the fun we have. Thankful for kids’ abilities to get over things and bounce back.
Despite their idiosyncrasies, my off days, and the daily drama, we actually have a pretty good time together.
Recently a boy in my first class wouldn’t share his book with the boy next to him.
I took him outside to ask him why. It took him a good ten minutes to gain control over his emotions (which he was painfully trying to hold in) and finally tell me that the boy copied his work, and he didn’t like it.
I told him I understood and would change the seating arrangement, explaining that the other boy only did that because he was slower and knew that this kid was smart. I changed the seats and assumed there would be no more problems.
I was glad to see the boy seemed to trust me more after that, seemed to understand that this class was a safe place where he could be honest and open. But what really surprised me was the affection that subsequently developed between the him and the boy who had been copying him.
In less than a week, their relationship went from tense to tolerant to bafflingly intimate. The boy I had pulled out of class seemed to be the initiator. He would muss the other boy’s hair, grab his hand, make friendly joking conversation with him before class. He began actively helping him with his workbook assignments and vocab quiz prep.
I couldn’t claim to understand this transformation much less have caused it, but I felt privileged to witness it. And it felt good knowing that I played a part in changing something for the better.