Teaching Moments: Fresh Starts

On Monday, I returned to work after a two-week vacation. I love returning to places after vacation. Everything feels so fresh. The time away gives you space to miss people, to miss the routine. Despite one student’s “No hello, Teacher” greeting on Monday, I couldn’t help feeling all warm inside as I welcomed the kids back.

There was one student, however, I was slightly apprehensive about seeing.

A student I made cry right before vacation. English name of Charlie. I’m talking shuddering, hyperventilating type tears. No amount of soothing words or reassurances helped, because by that point, it was too late.

I was in an intense mood that day, and when Charlie grew unsure answering a question, I pushed him pretty hard. Despite being aware that he is sensitive sometimes, I was determined to have him answer the question, was convinced he could do it.

But he couldn’t.

In the end, he lost his confidence and broke down. In slow motion. His face crumpling as he finally admitted in front of me and his peers that he just didn’t know.

A kid’s face changes when they reach that point of giving up. Something shifts in their brain. Something shuts down. They stop seeing the feat as attainable, and it becomes just that: out of reach. I hate seeing that shift. I hate seeing kids give up. And I hate seeing kids feel defeated. As if they are a failure for not knowing the answer to a question.

I also felt like a bit of a failure, however, because despite telling Charlie I was sorry, that it was okay to make mistakes, that it didn’t matter if he got answers wrong, that he shouldn’t listen to the other kids’ insensitive comments, he could barely breathe, he was so upset. When he left the classroom, he couldn’t even look at me. He was broken, inconsolable, and right before vacation, too. Part of me thought I might never see him again.

Fortunately, I did.

He came into the classroom smiling on Monday, and despite the fact that I could see through his practiced air of unconcern, I was glad. Glad to have the chance to show him I cared. And glad he had the chance to recover from his perceived failure.

Someone once told me, It’s not what you do, it’s what you do next. We all make mistakes, the question is, what will you do next?s

Rebuilding trust is a tricky endeavor, because you can’t push it. You can’t force it. It takes time. It takes consideration. It takes repeated efforts. In short, it takes patience. But that was what I chose next. Genuine smiles. Intentional laughter and friendliness. Averting my eyes at key moments to preserve his dignity. Watching my tone.

But to me, the greatest joy wasn’t in glimpsing Charlie’s face or getting the opportunity to smile at him. It was in seeing him raise his hand in class once again, even though he was unsure of the answer, it was when he got back up and took the risk of being wrong. That was when I felt that thrill I often feel as a teacher. That I am witnessing a kid’s character build before my eyes. That right here, something is happening that matters.

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Elizabeth is an American living in South Korea who believes in destiny, miracles, and living life intentionally. She holds to simple faith in a complex world, values the beauty of the everyday, and strives for vulnerability with other imperfect humans. She is always learning, laughing, and finding herself in awe of grace.

One thought on “Teaching Moments: Fresh Starts

  1. Good story. Liked the quote. So hard to embrace the fact that mistakes come with learning, that it’s an integral part of learning. That its ok to make mistakes. I struggle daily to allow learning to be messy. It goes completely against perfectionism that was highly valued in my own upbringing. Therefor its hard to convey the message that its ok to make mistakes when I know it in mind mind but did not experienced it growing up. Struggling to embrace messiness daily.

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