Closing the Teach For America Blogging Gap
Apr 07 2011

Sorry for reacting normally

Unlike real life, in teaching you have to intensely moderate normal emotions. When middle schoolers are so off-the-wall crazy with their own feelings, there really isn’t any room for the teacher to be grouchy or overtired or sad or angry or sick or anything. Sure, the kids appreciate hearing about these feelings if you have them, but they don’t actually want to experience them. They’re the ones who are supposed to snap for no reason, and the teacher is in charge of patiently waiting through it and holding no grudges. It doesn’t work the other way around.

Over the last two years, I’ve become way better at not having human emotions. I can take a deep breath and be calm at most things, and I’m much less likely to take anything personally. I can fake most emotions on command, so that anger, pride, disappointment, enthusiasm, etc. come out at the appropriate levels. I can smile kindly and speak quietly to a kid who is driving me absolutely insane. It’s tiring, but it’s actually significantly easier on my blood pressure than taking everything to heart. Unfortunately, I still can’t do these things anywhere close to all the time.

Yesterday, I was overtired and stressed out and had a lot of trouble staying patient with some very annoying student behaviors. They eventually wore me down and wore me down and wore me down until I finally snapped at a kid. I don’t remember what I said, but given the situation I’m pretty sure it was along the lines of, “I’m the teacher and it’s none of your business why I make the decisions I make in my classroom, so you need to stay out of it.” It was angry, but it probably would have been a completely reasonable response if I weren’t the teacher. I also know it felt SO GOOD in the moment and SO BAD the second I closed my mouth. Last year, I probably did that a million times, but this year that is not who I’ve been trying to be.

My kids will respect you as long as you respect them, but if you aren’t respectful for a second they immediately stop owing you anything in return. This kid immediately shut down, forgot the great relationship we have, and started talking back to me in a really rude tone. This was now a disastrous failure on my part, with the potential to lose this kid’s respect long-term and probably deteriorate my classroom culture pretty seriously. Luckily, I lost my pride long ago, when I took this job. I instantly had to do a 180 on my mood (hopefully the satisfaction I got from those few seconds of real anger can last me a long time), kneel down in front of the kid’s desk, and apologize. As calmly as I could, I told him I was in a bad mood but that wasn’t his fault and it was completely inappropriate of me to take it out on him. I said I was sorry, he wouldn’t look at me but did hear me out, and we’re back to great terms again. Can you hear my sigh of relief?

One Response

  1. Porscha

    It was big of you – HUGE – to apologize to him, especially in the classroom. Give yourself some credit. I know those days are exceptionally difficult, but you did something that not all teachers have the stones (or even the common sense) to do, which is to own it and move on. And that kid will bounce back and forget all about it, because you apologized. So good for you. You were much more in “teacher mode” than you think! :)

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