Back to School
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.
This was 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 became unsure while answering a question in class, 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.
In the end, he lost his confidence and broke down. In slow motion. His face crumpled 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. I hate seeing them feel defeated. As if they are a failure for not knowing the answer to one 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 was so upset he could barely breathe. When he left the classroom, he couldn’t even look at me. He was broken, inconsolable, and right before vacation, too. Since my class is completely optional, part of me thought I might never see him again.
Fortunately, I did.
Charlie 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 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?
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.